Sometimes you can’t watch the big game on the big screen. For those times when it’s more important to be at work or at the doctor’s office, you still have options to watch the game on the small screen. This guide will show you the top apps for streaming live sports on Android phones and tablets.
- We’ll start this guide with a look at apps from the sports leagues themselves. When done right, they give you the maximum in game play. When done wrong, they make you wonder whether the league even cares about its fans.
- Then we’ll look at apps from the sports networks. Most of these are the traditional broadcast or cable television networks. They may give you some limited free videos, but you will need TV Everywhere credentials (proof that you have a cable subscription) to get the big game.
- We’ll also look at what are called over-the-top services: multi-station streaming services that only exist online and replace your monthly cable subscription with yet another subscription.
How to avoid geofencing
Without a VPN, apps know where you are and will change the games that you can stream based on your location. If your local team hasn’t sold out at the stadium, then the game may be blacked out. If you’re traveling in another country, you may not get access at all.
A VPN like the one we recommend from IPVanish will help you get the video streams you’re paying for if geo-blocking is an issue in your locality. Just remember to turn off your Android device’s GPS before you connect to the VPN server because some apps take GPS location info into account if it’s available.
Dedicated Sports Apps
Many major sports leagues have their own dedicated streaming apps and will let you watch live games that the traditional networks don’t carry. They add extra information like live stat updates, background interviews, and updates on other games. If you’re a die-hard fan of a specific sport, then the dedicated app may be the way to go… unless you’re an NFL fan.
Great for NFL fans abroad
The NFL Mobile app delivers an amazing experience for anyone living outside the United States or Canada. With a subscription to NFL Game Pass, the seven billion people living everywhere else can stream any NFL regular season and post-season game.
- Note: There is an exception for people living in the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland: games broadcast on local telly are blacked out. Canadian fans have to subscribe to DAZN, an over-the-top sports network which includes an equivalent to the NFL Game Pass as part of the base subscription.
Related: DAZN Sports Streaming Review – Free Trial, Channels, Value
Despite its restrictions, the NFL app earned 4.1 stars in the Google Play Store with almost a quarter million people rating it 5-stars. Some useful tips from the reviews: the ads inserted before videos get repetitive – especially on the six second highlight clips – and the live streams are delayed several minutes from the broadcast.
English Football League iFollow
Different apps for different clubs
If you’re the kind of person who believes that true footballs are round, you’ll find a lot of apps that stream live matches. The English Football League’s approach is a little different. Instead of creating one app to rule them all, it created the iFollow streaming video platform. Each club can customize the platform to create their own app for their fans to download from the app stores. Do a search for “iFollow” in the Google Play Store to see how many clubs have an official EFL app.
Sadly, the EFL has done to its British and Irish fans what the NFL did to its American fans. The iFollow-based apps will only stream audio broadcasts of match play. Fans in the rest of the world, on the other hand, can watch more than 1,500 matches (that’s forty-six per club) in full HD.
Getting that audio-only experience costs the British and Irish football fans about £45 per season. The expanded video coverage for the rest of the world naturally costs more. International subscribers can expect to pay more for a season-long subscription. It costs about £110 per season ($140 in the US, $190 in Canada, or $185 in Australia).
Since the iFollow system is divided across more than fifty different club-specific apps, the number of ratings in the US version of the Google Play Store seems low. But most of those reviews give the app four or five stars. A good tip from the reviews is to register on the club site rather than through the rather confusing app system.
MLB.com At Bat
Free version available
The free MLB.com At Bat app from Major League Baseball gives you a modern version of old-timey game day radio broadcasts. You can listen to the play-by-play and color commentary while watching live stat updates and breaking news. For the most part, the only videos you get are highlight clips and post-game analysis. However, with the right TV Everywhere credentials, you do get to watch the MLB Channel’s Game of the Week– so at least there’s that.
Live video feeds of every game will cost you
You can pay for subscriptions in-app or get a Premium subscription direct from the MLB website and link it to the app. In either case, the app will give you access to almost every game’s live stream. The app does detect your location and blacks out the local team, but you can watch any out-of-market game that’s playing.
Baseball fans give MLB.com At Bat 4.3 stars with positive reviews outpacing negative reviews by nearly eight to one. The streaming quality is stable enough for fans to get the most out of the many live streams available each day.
This golf app does it all
The PGA Tour has its own app. The Masters has its own app. The British Open has its own app. But why bother when you have the Golf Channel app? If it’s golf-related, the Golf Channel has it.
You can populate your own custom leader board with your favorite players and make fantasy picks for each tournament. But best of all, the Golf Channel app lets you live stream every tournament the network broadcasts. That’s especially important during the early rounds on Thursday and Friday when you’re more likely to be at work.
Thanks to its deep coverage of the sport they love, golf fans have given the Golf Channel app 4.2 stars. But you only get that live experience in the United States. Once you step out of the country, the Golf Channel’s geofence slams shut.
TV Everywhere and OTT Sports Networks
Traditional broadcast networks, established cable companies, and modern over-the-top services have made streaming live sports on Android easier.
Not easy, mind you, just easier.
The complication comes with the way broadcast networks work with their local affiliates. All but a few dozen affiliates are owned by other companies and not the networks. That means the network and each local affiliate have to cut a deal to let network carry the local stream in its own app. Without a deal, people in that market can only get on-demand video of the network’s national entertainment and news shows – no live sports.
The same thing happens with over-the-top services: they have to sign deals with the network and every owner of a local affiliate to live stream network sports. That means people in some towns and cities get to watch local sports on their Android phones while people in other towns don’t.
TV Everywhere is required
To use this app, you have to be willing to jump through a few hoops. You need a TV Everywhere account to watch the CBS Sports Network on the CBS Sports app. But that only works if your cable company carries that channel. A subscription to CBS All Access lets you watch your local station’s live stream – including sports. That only works, though, if CBS and its local affiliate have signed a streaming deal. The same issues pop up if you try to stream CBS content through Hulu, FuboTV, or other streaming service providers.
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Despite the hassle of getting started, the CBS Sports app is one of the most popular. With 5-star reviews outnumbering 1-star reviews eleven-to-one, the app has gotten a 4.3-star reputation. Fans also love that CBS’s high-quality video stream lets them get the NCAA Basketball Tournament, major golf tournaments and more. (But remember: no streaming of the NFL unless you’re on Verizon.)
Related: How to Watch CBS Online, Without Cable in 2017 – Complete Guide
Lots of variety
NBC broadcasts sports on its traditional NBC network, the sports-centric NBCSN, and the Golf Channel. It will also broadcast the Super Bowl next February. That combination ought to make the NBC Sports app a popular choice for sports fans. But it decided to pull some sports, including Premier League soccer, out of its main app and bundle them in its NBC Gold subscription service.
Fans have hammered NBC in the Google Play Store reviews, driving the app’s rating down to three stars.
- Note: NBC Sports is only available in the United States. VPN users might be able to get the free content, but the only way to get the full range of live streaming content is to have a valid TV Everywhere credential in the United States.
Related: How to Watch NBC Online, Without Cable in 2017 – Complete Guide
Racing, cricket and more
Sky Sports delivers sports across nearly a dozen channels to its satellite subscribers in Europe. Premier League and Football provide extensive coverage of matches played in the UK. Cricket streams tournaments around the world. Gold, F1, and the general broadcasts of Arena and Action round out the Sky Sports lineup.
Britons and Europeans can subscribe to the streaming service, getting them access to a six pack of channels including Sky News, Action, Arena, Premier League, and Sports News. Premium subscribers also get Cricket, Football, Golf, and F1. Geo-fencing blocks access to the Sky Sports app outside Europe.
The Sky Sports app gets a respectable four-star rating from customers on Google Play UK.
Lots of options
ESPN has a similarly extensive range of sports channels including ESPN Deportes, ESPN Goal Line, ESPN Buzzer Beater, ESPN Bases Loaded, ESPN, ESPN2, ESPN3, ESPNU (US college athletics), and ESPNews.
Since it doesn’t have to worry about local affiliates, sports fans get all the games that air on its networks. Except for the NFL, of course. Only people with Android-based tablets can watch NFL Monday Night Football.
ESPN app’s broad channel lineup, stable streaming performance, and deep coverage have earned the sports network a 4.2-star rating for the ESPN app. Even people who like the app comment on its poor compatibility with Chromecast.
New kid on the block
FuboTV is an over-the-top service that offers streams from more than seventy national networks.
But it really shines when it comes to sports. FuboTV launched as a sports-only service and many of its features are still built that way. You can jump straight into a live stream or use fuboTV’s cloud DVR to record the entire match.
Related: FuboTV Review – Free Trial, Pricing, Channels, and Value
Soccer content galore
This app is a great choice for Soccer fans in particular. FuboTV’s network partners cover just about every league in the Americas and Europe. If the sports you want to see are on the traditional broadcast networks, however, things get tricky. You can’t watch anything on ABC or ESPN since FuboTV only carries live streams from NBC, Fox, and CBS. And even then, it has not signed deals with every local affiliate. You might not be able to get any local streams. Or you may only get one or two of the networks. Your mileage will vary.
FuboTV has gotten a mixed reception – people either love it or hate it – and gets an average 3.4 star rating. FuboTV’s support crew are active in the reviews asking customers to contact them for help resolving issues. Whether that will turn around the review situation remains to be seen.
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Licensing issues affect availability
PlayStation Vue runs into many of the same licensing issues as FuboTV. But Sony has had more time to negotiate deals market by market which means you’re more likely to get a local live stream. A step-up subscription gets you access to most of the sports content in PlayStation Vue. Individual add-on subscriptions will let you watch Fox Soccer Plus, NFL Red Zone, and Fox Deportes.
Make sure you try this app out a bit before shelling out too much cash. The app’s 3.1-star rating is driven by significant performance issues and a confusing interface.
Wrapping it Up
Streaming live sports on Android phones and tablets can be a frustrating experience. What you can watch and when varies from app to app. It even changes from season to season. But with a little perseverance, you can put together a library of apps that will get you streaming live sports on Android phones and tablets in no time.
Chris Casper is a former tech industry product manager who escaped from California for New Mexico. Now he writes about science and tech while searching for the perfect green chile sauce.