The National Football League’s regular season kicks off Thursday, but there’s still time for those who don’t have cable or pay TV to devise a game plan to watch online.
This season, fans have more options than in the past to stream local and primetime games on their phones and other Net-connected devices.
That strategy could be a move to tackle declining NFL ratings and a growing audience of viewers without traditional pay TV. While down, NFL games still are among the most-watched TV broadcasts.
“They are trying to reach every possible viewer, partially because of ratings and partially because there are simply more ways to watch now,” said Phil Swann, publisher of TheTVAnswerman.com, a TV news site.
For starters, it will be a lot easier to watch a lot of games, including those featuring your local team, on your mobile device this season. In the past, only Verizon wireless customers could watch local and primetime NFL games on their smartphones and tablets.
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This year, all wireless customers can use the NFL Mobile or Yahoo Sports apps to watch for free all in-market and national games including those on local CBS and Fox stations, NBC’s Sunday Night Football games (and Thursday’s game between the Atlanta Falcons and Philadelphia Eagles), ESPN’s Monday Night Football games and upcoming Thursday Night Football games broadcast on Fox. (Remember if you aren’t on WiFi, data charges will apply.)
Beyond that, most Thursday Night Football games will be streamed on Amazon Prime, which costs $119 annually, with the first being the Sept. 27 matchup of the Los Angeles Rams and Minnesota Vikings. Not an Amazon Prime member? You can watch for free on Twitch, the video game-centric streaming service Amazon acquired for $1 billion four years ago.
You can watch Amazon Prime on smartphones, tablets and Net-connected devices including Amazon Fire TV, Apple TV, Roku, Google Chromecast, Nvidia Shield, many smart TVs and game consoles.
You can use those devices, too, to watch live TV streaming services such as DirecTV Now, fubo TV, Hulu, PlayStation Vue, Sling TV, and YouTube TV – all of which have have added more local TV stations, in addition to their lineup of cable channels. These broadband TV services, which don’t require a contract or special proprietary equipment, are an option for those who don’t want to pay for traditional pay-TV service.
All this means it will be easier for you to watch NFL games on more devices this season, says Chris Brantner, editor in chief of StreamingObserver.com, which has an extensive NFL viewing guide on its site.
“The NFL is actively trying to figure out how to reach not only cord cutters, but also the young cord nevers,” he said. “How are they going to capture young fans who never have and never will pay for cable? Young people who consume content mostly on mobile devices? I think this is also a test to see if they can capture those eyeballs.”
If you’re a displaced fan of a non-local NFL team – like me, I’m a long-suffering Kansas City Chiefs fan – the only way to watch is on NFL Sunday Ticket, usually only available when you already have a subscription to DirecTV satellite service.
However, if you live in an area or dwelling where you cannot get DirecTV, you can subscribe online, starting at $293.96 for the season. College students, too, can get Sunday Ticket at a discounted price (along with NFL Red Zone and DirecTV Fantasy Zone) for four payments of $24.99.
And if you are DirecTV Now subscriber in one of seven markets (the Los Angeles area, Phoenix, Boston, Philadelphia, San Antonio, Hartford, or Louisville, Kentucky) and you are getting the Just Right package ($55 monthly) or higher, you can add an NFL Sunday Ticket subscription to your live streaming TV package.
And, don’t forget, if you live in a metro area, you can always try using an antenna to get local games for free. Check the AntennaWeb site, sponsored by the Consumer Technology Association and National Association of Broadcasters, for recommendations on antennas.
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Follow USA TODAY reporter Mike Snider on Twitter: @MikeSnider.