The professional sports industry is huge, valued at an estimated $145.34 billion in 2015. The NFL alone brings in $5–$6 billion per year in broadcasting rights from CBS, Fox, NBC, ESPN, and DIRECTV in contracts that run through the 2021-2022 season. Twitter reportedly paid close to $10 million to broadcast Thursday night NFL games.
Companies are willing to shell out all this money because professional sports are a huge audience draw. Let’s face it—we all have a favorite team in one sport or another, even the casual bandwagon fans.
Television is a whole new ballgame these days, however, and diehard fans have a bevy of options to keep up with their favorite teams. If you can’t get enough sports, here’s a quick breakdown of the best options to stay up to date on all the action.
For professional football fanatics, DIRECTV’s NFL SUNDAY TICKET is the best way to gain access to both live and on-demand HD NFL preseason and regular season content through the 2022-2023 season. The basic SUNDAY TICKET package costs $42.99 per month for six months ($257.94 total), and SUNDAY TICKET MAX costs $59.99 per month for six months ($359.94 annually).
For those seeking the most comprehensive NFL coverage, SUNDAY TICKET MAX is the best option.
Each package allows you to watch all out-of-market regular season games (up to eight at once), along with providing access to real time stats, scores, and player trackers on your TV.
SUNDAY TICKET MAX also adds the RED ZONE CHANNEL, FANTASY ZONE CHANNEL, and Shortcuts (condensed game highlights of locally aired or blacked out games) and allows streaming on your computer, tablet, phone, or game console.
Keep in mind playoff games and the Super Bowl are exclusively broadcast through whichever network above holds rights for that season.
Thanks to AT&T’s acquisition of DIRECTV, viewers unable to get satellite TV can still order SUNDAY TICKET for $199 (SUNDAY TICKET on computer, tablet, phone), $259 (SUNDAY TICKET on game consoles), or $359 (SUNDAY TICKET MAX on all devices). Keep in mind this offer is only available if your location can not have DIRECTV installed – otherwise, you’ll need to subscribe to DIRECTV.
If you’re willing to wait until the game is over, the NFL also offers the NFL Game Pass for $99 per year, which provides live video streaming of preseason games, live audio of regular season, and on-demand access to past games, including playoffs and Super Bowls going back to 2009.
Regardless of your cable or satellite provider, the NBA LEAGUE PASS is the best basketball package available. At $199.99 per year, it offers full live streaming and on-demand access to every NBA preseason and regular season game on TVs, computers, and mobile devices.
For $120, you can purchase a TEAM PASS to see all games from just your favorite team. This cheaper option is only worthwhile if you only like watching your own team play.
Although the NBA Playoffs and Finals are still restricted to ABC, ESPN, TNT, and NBA TV, you can still listen to live audio of each post-season game as part of the LEAGUE PASS or purchase access a la carte for $9.99.
Although Fox has exclusive rights to broadcast the World Series, the MLB Network, MLB Network Strike Zone, and MLB.TV are necessary to watch all the regular season games. MLB Extra Innings is the best baseball package, as it allows access to all of these, along with simultaneous viewing of up to 8 games in split-screen mode.
The following cable and satellite providers offer the same MLB Extra Innings package for $28.99 per month for six months ($173.94 per year):
iN DEMAND Game
Bright House Networks
Time Warner Cable
MLB.TV can be purchased on its own for $109.99 per year, which allows viewing on computers, tablets, mobile devices, and game consoles, and includes a free subscription to At Bat Premium, which allows you to watch the World Series on your mobile device. Without MLB.TV, At Bat Premium costs $19.99 per year.
If you’re only interested in a single team, MLB.TV Single Team costs $84.99 per year but doesn’t include At Bat Premium, so you’ll have to purchase it separately to watch the World Series on a mobile device.
A 35% student/military discount is available for either MLB.TV digital package, though satellite and cable providers do not offer this discount. This makes the digital MLB.TV package a worthy option for those looking to save money, though you won’t have access to the MLB Network and Strike Zone.
Fans of Major League Soccer can add MLS Direct Kick to DIRECTV, DISH, iN Demand, Time Warner Cable, Cox Communications, and Avail-TVN for $89 per year. This is the best package for fans of American soccer.
For $79.99 per year, you can access the same content on iOS, Android, Roku, Apple TV, and Chromecast through MLS Live. However, televised and blacked out matches aren’t available until 48 hours after the match, making it less ideal.
Soccer fans who prefer international and club soccer matches are best off viewing UEFA, Scottish Premier League, FA Cup and Europa League matches through FOX Soccer Plus for $14.99 per month with the same providers.
Mixed Martial Arts
For fans of mixed martial arts, UFC’s FIGHT PASS provides unlimited access to an archive of UFC, PRIDE, WEC, and Strikeforce fights, along with an extensive collection of international promotions, including Pancrase, Invicta FC, BRACE MMA, Shooto Brazil, EFN, and Glory Super Fight Series.
It also includes access to shows like UFC Unleashed, Best of PRIDE, and the Ultimate Fighter, along with original programming. This is the best package for the most comprehensive MMA coverage available.
Although UFC Pay-Per-View events aren’t included in the package, several UFC Fight Nights are exclusive to the service, and there are Fight Pass-exclusive fights on every UFC event card. It also includes exclusive fighter interviews from the sport’s top stars, commentary, and real-time reports from events around the globe.
Fight Pass costs $9.99 per month on a month-to-month plan and drops to $8.99 per month with a 6-month commitment and $7.99 per month with a 12-month commitment and is available with any cable or satellite provider, along with streaming on computers and mobile devices.
Hockey fans have three options for keeping up with NHL hockey games that aren’t broadcast on NBC or NBC Sports. Subscribers of the following cable/satellite providers can order NHL Center Ice for $159 per year (or much a much cheaper price of $59 if ordered during the offseason):
Time Warner Cable
Bright House Networks
Blue Ridge Communications
If you do not have one of these services, you can still subscribe to NHL GameCenter Live for computers and mobile devices for the same $159 annual price. Or, you can access an online single-team version of GameCenter Live for $105 per year.
NHL Center Ice is the best of these hockey packages, as it’s the only one that allows viewing on both TVs and mobile devices.
Wrestling fans have easily the best sports package available to them in the form of the WWE Network, which allows live and on-demand access to all events (including Pay-Per-View) from the past and present for WWE, NXT, WCW, ECW, NWA, SMW, AWA, and even the XFL.
In addition, WWE Network provides original programming such as The Edge and Christian Show That Totally Reeks of Awesomeness, Holy Foley!, and Stone Cold Podcast, documentaries and encore broadcasts of every Raw and Smackdown over 30 days old (due to contractual obligations to USA Network).
This makes WWE Network the best wrestling package available.
The cost of WWE Network is $9.99 per month, and it’s the only way for DIRECTV and DISH Network customers to watch WWE Pay-Per-View events, as both satellite companies dropped them from their services after WWE CEO Vince McMahon refused to negotiate with them.
College sports fans have an increasingly difficult time finding the right sports package, but in late 2015, ESPN discontinued its ESPN Full Court and ESPN GamePlan packages in anticipation of the launch of ESPN College Extra, which can be purchased as part of the DIRECTV Sports Pack for $13.99 per month.
Also included in the Sports Pack are ESPN Buzzer Beater (360-degree coverage of men’s and women’s college basketball), ESPN Goal Line (similar to NFL’s RED ZONE for NCAA football), ESPN Bases Loaded (NCAA baseball), and all regional sports networks, making DIRECTV’s Sports Pack the best package for watching college sports.
For those not on DIRECTV, DISH Network’s Sling TV offers live access to ESPNU, TNT, ESPN Buzzer Beater, ESPN Goal Line, ESPN Bases Loaded, and the SEC Network as a $5 sports package add-on to the $20 per month Sling TV service. This is the best way to view as much NCAA action as possible.
Brian Penny is a former Business Analyst and Operations Manager at Bank of America turned whistleblower, troll, and freelance writer. His work appears in High Times, Huffington Post, Fast Company, Hardcore Droid, and The Street.