Gone are the days when if you couldn’t get to see your team play, your only alternative would be a highlights show the day after, or worse, hearing the results on the news before even seeing the event. Ardent sports fans that have suffered over the years with cricket on the radio and snooker on black and white television sets – so they don’t miss any live action – have seen their patience and persistence pay off as nowadays it is pretty much possible to stream any sporting event from anywhere in the world in real-time. Some of these channels are free; some you’ll have to pay for. Some are available across all regions and some aren’t. Some methods are perfectly legal, and others are, well, not so legal. But the fact of the matter is, with every sporting season more ways to enjoy your favourite sport become available, even if you’re the world’s biggest NFL fan but you live in the Shetland Islands.
The popularity of sports streaming hasn’t gone unnoticed by major broadcasters either, and while in the past they may have tried to fight it, in more recent years some of the big players in sports broadcasting have actively embraced the idea. For the past two seasons, BT Sport has teamed up with YouTube to air the Champions League and Europa League finals for free in 4K ultra high definition. Twitter and Amazon have also scored big with sports fans – particularly for their NFL coverage – and it looks like Google and Facebook won’t be far behind with regular free fixtures. Likewise, the BBC as official broadcaster for the 2017 Wimbledon tennis tournament, has made all the matches available to watch for free live on its iPlayer service, but this is only available in the UK. For non-UK residents, a selection of sets (games and matches) can be viewed on YouTube’s Wimbledon Channel or through YouTube TV if you’re in the USA (or in the UK using a VPN). This package comes free of charge with your first month’s subscription to the service (billed at $35).
Speaking of which, YouTube TV is fast becoming one of the most popular (legal) ways to stream sports in the USA with its price of $35 per month standing strong against many other bundles from competitors such as Sling TV, PlayStation Vue and DirecTV. The main differences with these seem to lie in the amount of regional sports they include, if they show college matches (which have a huge following Stateside) and whether or not you access to ESPN, Fox, ABC, CBS, NBC, etc. For UK viewers, this is even more complicated as YouTube TV is not technically available over here so to watch it you will also have to use (and probably pay for) a VPN that can make your device think it is in a different country. Not everyone will be comfortable will be this method as it can be quite shady but it is a relatively simple method to get access to more sports more often.
Even with improvements to official channels being made year-on-year and bundle prices becoming more and more competitive each season, there will always be people that want everything for nothing. Depending on the lengths you are prepared to go to there is usually a way to find – and stream – the sports match you want for free. This doesn’t come without compromise however and that could be in quality, extra pop ups/advertising, commentary in a different language, plus the added risk that you may be signing up to something that isn’t what you wanted in the first place. The live section of YouTube is usually a ‘good’ (but not always moral) place to start when looking for sports events, and Internet pirates will broadcast entire sports channels ‘live’. Forums such as Reddit will also include threads with links to video broadcasts of pretty much anything you can think of. For this less-than-legitimate options though you can never be sure that the same link will work twice or even that it will be up long enough to enjoy the full 90 minutes but some sports fans manage to enjoy plenty of fixtures without having to pay a penny.
For some, watching the beautiful game on their mobile phone while waiting for the bus is something they never thought they’d see in their lifetime but there is a side of sport streaming that is even more technologically advanced and that is the matter of virtual reality. While it may have been predicted that VR would be virtually reserved for the gaming market, sports streaming could be its ticket into the mainstream. The aforementioned Champions League and Europa League finals shown on YouTube (by BT Sport) will be available in VR format as well as a minimum of 25 basketball matches from the NBA 2016-17 season. VR may not be everyone’s cup of tea but for those that want a fully-immersive experience, it will provide that extra bit of something that – for some – is lacking in televised sport as opposed to standing on the terraces.
So will sports streaming ever take over watching on a ‘proper’ TV channel or even going to the match itself. It’s not news to say that sports tickets (and music gigs, festivals, etc.) prices are increasingly difficult to get hold of, not to mention incredibly expensive, especially when sold through third party touts, so preferring to watch sports at home is already a popular choice, but not so long ago sports broadcasters charged rates only Premier-league footballers could afford for football, formula 1 and boxing packages (on top of annual subscriptions). On top of that, some of the really ‘big ticket’ matches and fixtures incurred an extra charge of their own. For this reason, it was quite often the case that pubs and bars would buy the subscriptions each year and punters would have to go there to watch a match (with the added fee of food and drink of course that are almost impossible to resist).
Having the access to stream the sports of your choice onto your mobile phone, tablet, laptop or television now means you can watch whatever you want, wherever you want. Not only is it becoming the cheapest option, but also the most convenient. And, if you want to watch more than one event at the same time, you can do that too. So if it’s the end of the season and there’s a battle for the top spot, why not have one match on your TV and another on your phone – even with a season ticket, you’d never be able to be in two places at once.