Despite increasing popularity and revenue, online plans for some major sports are still stuck in the past. Here’s an overview of what each league has to offer and how each sport has adapted to the Internet and—in some cases— how they haven’t.
The NBA playoffs are in full swing, but unless you have access to cable television you are out of luck. The league does not currently have a product to stream its playoffs online.
The NBA airs many games online via its League Pass service. Two versions of this season-long plan are offered: a $49 “Premium” plan providing access to games from all 30 teams, and a $24 “Choice” plan which provides access to games from five teams you choose. Though affordable, the NBA’s online plan has many problems, including broadcast blackouts and a surprising lack of playoff coverage.
The NFL offers what appears to be a strong online plan with Game Pass product, but you can’t watch it if you live in the United States. Game Pass is exclusively an international product. U.S. fans get Game Rewind instead, where a monthly $14.99 fee (during the off-season) earns you “on-demand online video access to NFL games after they have aired on broadcast television.” According to the fine print, the NFL’s Sunday games don’t air on Game Rewind until late on Sunday night, which means you’ll likely have to wait until Monday to watch your team play.
The NFL makes up for its uninspiring regular-season plan with a great post-season policy. Last season, all of the league’s playoff games, including the Super Bowl, were aired online via NFL.com and NBCSports.com. More games will be aired online during the league’s next TV contract, which will run from 2014 to 2022 and grants all networks but CBS Internet rights. The NFL’s highest-rated games—Sunday Night Football and the playoffs—air online free-of-charge.
Major League Baseball’s MLB.TV comes with many restrictions. Two plans are offered: a $19.99 monthly plan which allows only web viewing, and a $24.95 monthly premium plan which also allows viewing on Xbox 360, iOS and some Android devices. Season-long passes are $109.95 and $124.95, respectively.
The National Hockey League easily offers the poorest online viewing options of all four major sports. The NHL’s GameCenter Live is similar to the MLB’s and NBA’s plans and suffers the same blackout problems that plague its competitors. Like League Pass and MLB.TV, GameCenter LIVE broadcasts a ton of sports action — possibly not your favorite team’s games. GameCenter Live is also not available for the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Instead, the NHL markets GameCenter Premium, which offers live radio broadcasts through the end of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Archaic online plans are frustrating in light of the ever-improving illegal stream economy. Anyone can find a live stream of the sporting event they want to watch—and pirates don’t respect broadcast blackouts. Professional leagues will continue to lose money until they provide streaming products competitive with those being offered illegally.