MLB.TV is the best way to stream games, but blackout rules are a pain
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In a matter of weeks, winter will give way to spring and our long national nightmare of not having baseball will be over. The baseball season is a marathon: 162 games in about six months, totaling 2,430 games (and that's before the postseason).
Following a team requires day-to-day dedication, but this is 2017, right? It should be easy to just sign up for a service and watch every game. Unfortunately, it's a bit more complex than that. Here's everything you need to know to make sure you catch every dinger, web gems, and excessive mound visit.
MLB broadcasts are shared across a bunch of different sources, including national channels like Fox, cable channels like ESPN and TBS, and regional sports networks like MASN, NESN, Yes, and more. But the number of games you can stream depends on two things: what team you care about and whether or not you also have a cable subscription.
...then your TV already has access to your local team's games through your regional sports network as well as national games on TBS, FOX, and ESPN.
MLB.TV will give you access to all out-of-market games for $24.99 per month, and starting in 2017 you can log in with your cable service's username and password and stream in-market games online as well. That means you can catch every single MLB game, whether you follow the local team or a team across the country.
...then you can still get MLB.TV to stream all of the out-of-market games, but all of your local team's games will be blacked out. That's not a huge issue if, for example, you're a Red Sox fan living in the D.C. area who doesn't care about the Nationals. In this case you can either get MLB.TV for $24.99/mo or pay $87.49 for the season to access just a single team's games.
Just beware that even if you're paying for MLB.TV, if your team is on a national broadcast it may be subject to blackout and you may need to use services like Sling TV, DirecTV Now, or Playstation Vue to see those broadcasts on ESPN, TBS, or FOX. For the full blackout rules, head here.
If you don't have cable and you live in your favorite team's market, then there's no easy way to stream your team's games online live, though usually the game will be available to replay 90 minutes after it wraps up on MLB.TV. Services like VPNs can get around the TV blackouts, but they're legally questionable and certainly break the terms of service.
MLB.TV is supported by a ton of popular devices, including PC and Mac computers, Xbox One, Playstation 4, Roku, Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV, and Chromecast. For watching broadcasts on your TV, we'd recommend using either the Amazon Fire TV Stick with Alexa, or a Roku Premier+, which were two of our top picks when we last looked at the best streaming devices and have newly updated MLB.TV apps.
For a complete list of supported devices, check out MLB's complete list.
As mentioned above, you can get MLB.TV for $24.99 per month during the season. You can also pay for a full year's worth of access for $112.99 up front, or a full year of just a single team's games for $87.49.
Students and military members qualify for a 35% discount, though only for the "first billing." It's unclear if that's just the first month, or if it could be for the full season if you purchase it up front.
You certainly don't need a cable or satellite subscription to stream MLB games, but between local and national blackouts, you're going to need one if you want to watch every game. Unfortunately, MLB teams still really want you to watch games via regional sports networks outside of a few national games, which are generally only available through cable.
Take, for instance, my current situation—I've been a Red Sox fan my entire life, and these days, I live in the greater-Boston region. The home for Red Sox baseball on TV is NESN, which can be included in most cable subscriptions. The only time a Red Sox game isn't broadcast on NESN is when a national network (like Fox or ESPN) owns the broadcasting rights to that particular game. More on that later.
So outside of the handful of instances a month where the Sox find themselves on Fox or ESPN, a Red Sox fan will have to turn to NESN to get their fix. This is how it is across the country, where many teams own their regional sports network and pull in massive TV revenues from local cable subscribers.
I've spent a couple of seasons enjoying an MLB.TV subscription in the past, and frankly, the quality of the streams is superb. The apps are well-designed, the streams are stable, and you get an HD picture at 60 frames per second.
In my two seasons as an MLB.TV customer, I enjoyed speedy load times and rarely experienced dropped connections or the dreaded buffer. My subscription allowed me to decide if I wanted to enjoy the home team's broadcasting personalities or the visiting team's. I could watch games side-by-side (which was a godsend during tight pennant races) and even keep tabs on up-to-the-minute highlights across the league.
There's no denying it: MLB.TV is an insanely well-oiled machine. It's a sturdy, reliable platform. And for the steep asking price, it really ought to be.
That said, the reason I enjoyed my MLB.TV subscription so much has everything to do with my living situation at the time: I was a Red Sox fan living in Los Angeles. This brings me to the most important aspect of MLB.TV.
Because I live in Boston these days, the Red Sox are my region's "in-market" team. Remember NESN? Based on my location, NESN is my in-market TV channel for Red Sox games.
This means I can't stream Red Sox games on MLB.TV—the platform geolocates me based on my IP address, and because I live in NESN territory, every single Red Sox game will be blacked-out. What a buzzkill.
Oh sure, I could use a proxy to spoof an out-of-market location and potentially bypass the blackout restriction, but this is a) somewhat complicated, and b) not entirely legal. I don't endorse this method at all!
But wait! There's still hope (kind of).
Beginning this season, MLB.TV subscribers will have access to in-market games, but only if they're already paying for in-market networks via a cable subscription.
So let's consider, yet again, little ol' me: I live in Boston, I want to watch the Red Sox, and I have an MLB.TV subscription. Starting this season, I'll finally be able to stream Red Sox games from the comfort of my Boston home, but only if I'm also paying for NESN through a cable subscription. This is less about letting fans cut the cord and still pay for games, and more about letting existing MLB.TV customers choose to enjoy those games on a different platform.
And unfortunately, this new stipulation isn't as straightforward as it seems. For example, if you're a Phillies fan who pays for both MLB.TV and a DirecTV package, the new MLB.TV structure doesn't help you out at all since DirecTV doesn't offer the sports channels that broadcast Phillies games. To see how the blackout rules affect your particular zip code, head here.
The takeaway here is that the industry surrounding MLB broadcasts is a tangled nest of laws, regulations, stipulations, ins, outs, and what-have-yous.
Simply put, MLB.TV is only a viable, surefire solution for fans who live outside of the market of their favorite team. The service was perfect for me when I was a Red Sox fan in Los Angeles, but as a Red Sox fan in Boston, I have very little use for it. I mean, sure—if I really wanted my MLB.TV account to stream Red Sox broadcasts, I could pay for a cable package that includes NESN. At that rate, though, I wouldn't need an MLB.TV subscription. The only good it'd be good for at that point is allowing me to watch games on a second screen somewhere outside of my living room.
These days, since I have access to ESPN and ESPN2 via Sling TV, I find myself cherishing the handful of Sunday nights where the Red Sox happen to be playing on ESPN. I also have an HD antenna for my TV, so when the Red Sox happen to be playing on Fox's Saturday afternoon MLB slot, my schedule revolves around it.
There's also one last failsafe method for experiencing every in-market game from the comfort of your own home... a bulletproof, guaranteed-to-work trick for getting the game piped into your living room, bedroom, kitchen, or porch. It's called the radio, and it's beautiful in every way. For generations, people have been tuning into the terrestrial airwaves to follow the action of the game, and I highly, highly recommend it. This summer, grab a beer and some peanuts and sit outside with an old-timey radio. It's the best thing there is.