Whether you’re a casual fan who watches sports for the drama, or an aficionado who never misses a match, streaming sports online can allow you to enjoy sports from anywhere.
Unfortunately, sports streaming services keep going up in price. Today, a single service can cost more than $100 per month.
But your sports watching habit doesn’t need to eat up a huge chunk of your monthly budget. We’ve found several ways to watch sports online for free without risking malware attacks. Here’s how to do it.
How To Watch Sports Online For Free
Free sports streaming doesn’t have to involve sketchy websites and a high risk of downloading malicious software. Our top suggestions are to use legitimate sources that are available to most people in the United States. Below, we cover four of your best options to watch sports online for free.
Note that the advice below applies to watching the big money sports which are typically covered by major networks that keep freeloaders out. However, smaller sports can often be found through YouTube or Facebook Watch. For example, I’ve enjoyed watching Volleyball matches and CrossFit events through YouTube.
1. Focus On The Highlights
With so many sports, games, and leagues, watching sports can take up a lot of time. If you’re not that interested in the game, focus on a few highlight plays. ESPN.com consistently offers free highlight reels that cover all the most important plays on all major sports (and quite a few minor sports too).
Most of the other major sports networks (including FOX Sports, NBC Sports, and CBS Sports) quickly upload game highlights from the sporting events as well. And if you’re a few days late to the party and want to catch a play from a few days earlier, YouTube will probably have you covered.
2. Take Advantage Of Free Trial Periods
At this point, most major networks require cable or streaming passcodes to access the high-quality streams directly from the source.
However, sites such as FuboTV, Hulu Live, Sling, Disney+ (For ESPN Access), and YouTube Live frequently offer free trial periods for new users. These trials can be valuable if you only want to catch a few playoff games or one tournament.
This isn’t a long-term solution. But it can get you a few weeks of being able to watch sports online for free.
4. Tread Carefully In The Underground World Of Live Sports
Once you leave the world of free trials and legitimate streaming, you’ll need to figure out a way to protect yourself from malware and invasive pop-ups. If possible, do not do “underground” streaming from a primary computer. Instead, use an old computer that’s been restored to factory settings. And log in from a useless email account that isn't connected to any bank accounts.
Even with a protected computer, you will probably want to use an ad-blocker and antivirus software to prevent any hacks from occurring. Even with these in place, I found that a lot of the “highly recommended” sites that specialize in pirating streaming services have poor quality streaming and often go out.
For example sites like 123TV, CricHD, USTVGO, VIPLeague, and Stream2Watch typically make top lists for accessing major sporting events. But, without a VPN, I found the streaming quality so poor that it wasn’t at all enjoyable to watch. Perhaps a more dedicated fan would be willing to put up with the poor quality. But I simply couldn't deal with the interrupted streams.
Once you’ve got yourself protected, the key is to find the games you want to watch. Historically, Reddit was the best source for crowd-sourced information about free streams. But due to regulation, most of these sources have moved elsewhere.
SportSurge.Net is one streaming aggregation site that ranks streams by a variety of factors. In testing, the top stream options from SportSurge worked well enough and didn't overwhelm me with pop-up ads. But it should be pointed out that even if you can access the streams, some of these sites are geo-locked and will require a VPN connection.
How To Watch Sports Online For Less
If you want to watch sports online, but you're not interested in destroying your computer, you may be able to protect yourself by opting into a few low-cost services. Here are the top three "cheap but not quite free" options for sports fans anywhere.
1. Pair A VPN With A Paid Service
A VPN allows you to hide your actual location and use an IP address that’s geo-located in a more favorable area. If you have access to SlingTV or another streaming service, a VPN may allow you to unlock otherwise geo-locked content. If you want to watch La Liga or the English Premier League, you may be able to combine VPN and a paid streaming service to access some of the best games live.
The price of VPN have been dropping. There are now options for under $4 per month (consider ExpressVPN, NordVPN, or Surfshark for a few lower-cost options). By itself, a VPN won’t get you every sport you want to watch (especially if you want to watch boxing or other typical pay-per-view sports). But it will get you any network coverage you want. Most devices can be programmed using a VPN which could allow you to watch international sports as if you’re a local.
However, those who choose to unlock content using a VPN could be in a breach of copyright in one country or another. At the very least, it’s a legal gray area. So consider this option with caution. Additionally, certain devices make it difficult to unlock content using VPN. So don’t count on this option working forever.
2. Subscribe to Low-Cost Streaming Services
These days, many paid streaming services cost almost as much as old-school cable TV packages (especially if you're cable is bundled with other services). However, “cord cutters” can still find some low- to moderate-cost options for watching sports.
Most of the top paid services today are available on virtually all the major smart TV platforms and streaming devices such as Roku, Apple TV, Google Chromecast, iOS, Android, Xbox One, and PlayStation. Here are a few of our favorites:
Sling offers ESPN, the NFL Network, Fox Sports (select markets), and NBC (some regional markets). The cost for all of the sports channels is $35 per month. Overall, it’s not a bad price to pay for all the sports (and other TV) you can handle. Sling also has upgrades that include a Sports Bundle ($15 extra per month) which includes some of the smaller channels. Try Sling TV here >>>
The Disney Bundle includes Disney Plus, Hulu, and ESPN. The Bundle doesn’t include Hulu’s Live Sports. But it does include live coverage from ESPN. At just $13.99 per (for Hulu with supported ads) month, this may be the lowest cost option available.
DAZN costs $99.99 per year and serves people interested in boxing, darts, soccer, and combat sports documentaries. It allows combat fans to avoid pay-per-view costs for major bouts and gives them access to some minor sports as well.
3. Purchase A TV Tuner And Antenna
With major TV Networks being locked down for streaming, watching a live game from your computer can be a challenge. However, most major networks (CBS, FOX, ABC, NBC, etc.) still broadcast over-the-air for free in major US TV markets.
And if you have a TV tuner and an antenna, you can “retrofit” most laptops to watch sports live. The TV Tuner will launch TV Software on your computer. And the antenna will allow you to pick up local channels.
I “invested” in a Leaf Antenna and TV tuner almost 8 years ago. And this is how I watch most sports (since I don’t have a TV). I can even use my high-quality secondary monitor to get great images.
Technically, this isn’t streaming since it’s just using a computer like a TV. But it gets the same results and allows you to avoid paying for pricey streaming services.
While there are a lot of options to watch sports online for free, you need to understand the legal obligations of each method for yourself and your country. It's not worth getting into trouble for free streaming, when there are a lot of low cost options that could work just as well.
Robert Farrington is America’s Millennial Money Expert® and America’s Student Loan Debt Expert™, and the founder of The College Investor, a personal finance site dedicated to helping millennials escape student loan debt to start investing and building wealth for the future. You can learn more about him on the About Page, or on his personal site RobertFarrington.com.
He regularly writes about investing, student loan debt, and general personal finance topics geared towards anyone wanting to earn more, get out of debt, and start building wealth for the future.
He has been quoted in major publications including the New York Times, Washington Post, Fox, ABC, NBC, and more. He is also a regular contributor to Forbes.