60 easy ways to be a digital NFL fan on the cheap

Ben
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News flash: cable television can be really expensive. A satellite dish can seem like a great alternative until your introductory price runs out, and then suddenly it’s not. But for sports fans – particularly fans of the National Football League – life without a pricey cable plan or one of those little black satellites bolted to the roof may seem like no life at all.

Fear not, my thrifty friends – there are ways to stay in touch with the game you love without paying a healthy portion of your monthly income to a faceless conglomerate that relentlessly finds new and mysterious ways to bleed a few more dollars out of you. In fact, you’re probably using a few (or several) of these sources already – it’s time to optimize, player.

 

As we prepare to enter another thrilling season of NFL football, let’s look at 60 easy ways to be a well-informed, video-consuming, live action-loving NFL fan.

How to Cut Cable and Still Maintain Your Self-Respect as an NFL Fan

A quick note: you may feel wary about ditching cable or the dish because of FOMO (how can I live without the NFL? Game of Thrones? Random Lifetime movies?).

First, remember that you are not alone. Crain’s reported in April that pay TV suscriptions declined by 0.5% over the previous 12 months, the largest exodus on record. Forbes.com’s Greg Satell believes that he will save as much as $600 per year without cable. USA Today is rolling out flow charts that show its readers how to most efficiently cut the cord. It’s a movement, people!

Next, take note that many of the options that allow you to watch and love the NFL will also apply to your favorite channels. HBO, AMC, Showtime, ESPN and several other powerhouse cable channels have standalone streaming options. Hell, so does the NFL. In fact, we should probably get to that list…

60 Ways to Be an NFL Fan Without Cable

Digital NFL fans

1. Go to the game. I know, what a concept! While the NFL is the most dominant presence in the American sports market, fan attendance fell from 20,336,000 in 2011 to 18,205,000 in 2014. Fewer than 65,000 fans attended the average NFL game in 2014. The league’s loss is your gain — taking advantage of the secondary market by utilizing services like StubHub, SeatGeek and SeatHound, you can always find tickets to a home game, often at face value or even a decent discount (especially if you don’t mind a little snow or watching the Jacksonville Jaguars).

2. Go tailgate. Don’t want to drop the $60 to $200 it costs to get a decent seat at an NFL game? Go to the game, soak up the atmosphere outside of the stadium and – once the game starts – sidle up alongside some other like-minded souls who chose to watch the game on televison while their buddies head into the stadium. You’d be surprised how many of these people are out there, and as long as you are polite and friendly (translation: share your beer and food), you’ll likely be welcomed into the fold.

Plus, after the opening kickoff, any scalper selling tickets suddenly has spoiled goods on his or her hands — another opportunity to get into the game dirt-cheap.

3. Steal it. We take no responsibility for any trouble you may bring upon yourself in the form of viruses, malware or burly thugs from Roger Goodell’s office arriving at your front door, but if you want to find – ahem – international feeds of NFL games, it’s fairly easy to find directions on sites like Reddit. Let your conscience be your guide.

4. Get Sling TV.  Sling TV costs $20 a month and includes several channels from the ESPN family, giving you access to the Worldwide Leader’s vast coverage of the NFL as well as Monday Night Football. You can watch on your TV via Roku, Chromecast, Amazon Fire and other similar devices or stream Sling TV on your laptop or mobile device.

Bonus: ESPN carries a ton of college football on both its traditional channels and the streaming-only ESPN3.com portal, giving you plenty of pigskin all week long.

5. Get the NFL Sunday Ticket. You no longer need a DirectTV sunscription to get the coveted NFL Sunday Ticket, including out-of-market games, streaming video and real-time stats and scores. It’ll cost you — packages start at $199 — but you can watch all of that sweet, sweet NFL action. Except, of course, your home team.

6. Watch/listen to games on the NFL Mobile App. Preseason games are free with Verizon Mobile, and the NFL Game Pass allows you to watch replays of every regular season game (no spoilers functionality available!), live audio (awesome while working out), All-22 film (for all you nerds) and on-demand NFL playoff games.

7. Get SiriusXM satellite radio. Some sports are awful on the radio. Hockey, basketball, auto racing — it’s tough to get an idea of what’s really happening, no matter how talented to announcing crew. Football, however, is heavenly over the (digital) airwaves. A perfect pace for tons of stats and analysis, heavy drama as plays unfold, the roar of the crowd to telegraph what happened that instant before the words spill from the announcers’ mouths. NFL packages start at $19.99 per month, and that comes with a lot more audio, too.

8. Use the TuneIn Radio and IHeartRadio apps. You can’t listen to live games, but these apps give you the ability to check into hometown coverage of most teams throughout the league. If you can’t live without Bob from Kenosha questioning Jordy Nelson’s heart because he can’t play through a torn ACL, these apps are for you.

9. Watch over-the-air (OTA) TV. If you want to watch your hometown team and need access to your local stations, go (somewhat) old-school and break out your antenna. You’re going to be somewhat limited depending on your position in relation to the transmitter (how quaint!) but digital signals are pretty solid in this modern age. Consumer Reports has a nice write-up on best practices and hardware.

Digital NFL viewing option

10. Give Roamio OTA a shot. Remember Aereo? It was a scheme by some clever entrepreneurs to harness the free OTA signals sent out by local TV stations and, uh, sell them. The FCC eventually decided that was illegal. BUT – thanks to TiVO’s Roamio OTA product – you can download up to 75 hours of programming from OTA channels to a custom DVR. The gray market lives!

11. Listen to ESPN Radio. Depending on your ability to stomach the likes of Mike and Mike, Dan LeBatard and Jonathan “The Coach” Coachman, ESPN Radio is a nonstop, round-the-clock font of NFL news, rumors and information. The NFL talk only stops when the National Basketball Association approaches its preseason or Tiger Woods is in a Major. ESPN Radio is hyper-convenient and is available in most markets over the air, streams worldwide online and has a recently-much-improved mobile app that also provides on-demand access to its plethora of NFL podcasts.

12. Don’t forget about AM radio! You can listen in your car. You can listen on your phone. You can listen on — on — on a RADIO. There are lots of angry people in your town, and many of them want to talk football. This offers hours of entertainment and also gives you plenty of things to chat about when you get stuck next to a dumb guy at a bar.

13. Check in at Bleacher Report. The quality of the writing can be…spotty, but in raw terms of keeping up to date with the latest breaking news and storylines, Bleacher Report does a pretty solid job. If choppy sentences, passive sentences and seemingly endless routes to simple assertions bother you, just pretend the whole thing is written by sixth graders.

14. Read Grantland.com often. It’s a shame about Bill (Simmons), but his brainchild remains an important outpost of quality sports reporting. Bill Barnwell is one of the finest long-form NFL writers in the business. Robert Mays is solid. Jason Bailey and Andrew Sharp are OK. Plus, you can read the latest from Shea Serrano or Steven Hyden and wonder what mistake you made in your own career that prevented you from having their job.

15. Start hanging out at NFL.com. Which major sports league has the best website? It’s neck and neck between Major League Baseball’s excellent MLB.com and the NFL’s NFL.com. The online headquarters for The Shield is utterly packed with great writers, breaking news, exclusive video and fantasy stuff, if you’re into that sort of thing. Obviously the site tiptoes through minefields like DeflateGate with caution but is surprisingly candid in its coverage in the good, the bad and the ugly of the league. A daily must-visit for any fan.

16. You know, The Monday Morning QB isn’t that bad. Peter King takes the proverbial cake in the category of smug, sanctimonious and simultaneously painfully insecure sportswriters, but dammit if he hasn’t done a nice job with MMQB.com. Kind of like Grantland, minus the Rembert Browne posts and oral histories of Duran Duran. King, like him or not, is a consummate insider who gets access no one else gets, and he’s pulled together a nice team of writers that include Andy Benoit, Jenny Vrentas, Don Banks, Richard Deitsch and Emily Kaplan, among others.

17. Shutdown Corner at Yahoo! Sports is good stuff, read it. Don’t have time to do repeated deep dives into NFL news? Just want the good stuff? Shutdown Corner has you covered (pun intended). Well-written, slightly breezy, occasionally opinionated and easy to consume, these guys are usually a fun read.

18.  Check out NBCSports.com on Sunday nights. Behind-the-scenes videos, highlights and commentary plus – correct me if I’m wrong – I’m pretty sure NBC Sports streams the Sunday night games live for free. Also the home of Evan Silva (@evansilva), a knowledgable fantasy writer who is great about interacting with readers on Twitter.

19. Embrace Pro Football Talk.  Sometimes it feels icky, like the Drudge Report of the sports internet, but there’s always a ton of news on PFT. The site claims that its “PFT Rumor Mill has become a fixture for all NFL front offices, for many coaches and players, all agents, and most of the media covering the NFL.” Well, if they say so! The Comments section is legendary.

Digital options for NFL fans

20. Channel your inner scout and read the National Football Post. In the heart of every sports fan we believe — just a little — that we could be scouts, coaches or GMs. We are wrong. The NFPost, however, reads a bit like a scouting report, and the site represents itself as insider-heavy. A solid read for the serious fan who takes him or herself a little too seriously (and secretly reads lots of PFT, too).

21. Keep an eye on NFLTradeRumors.com. It’s an aggregator that pulls together info from a variety of NFL sources, most notably a lot of the beat reports — so while it may be some of the same news you see elsewhere, it often has that extra degree of depth that the local writers can provide.

22. Follow these people on Twitter, starting with: @MattWilliamsonNFLSome people can’t stand “M-Dub,” one of the voices from ESPN Radio’s star-crossedunderrated Football Today podcast,  because he seems to always run down their favorite team (raise your hands, Bills fans). Williamson, however, is a former NFL scout and is ridiculously well-versed about the intricacies of the game.

23. @SI_DougFarrar A meat-and-potatoes writer for Sports Illustrated who stays very engaged with Twitter and shares a lot of the best football work being published (regardless of the source) with his following.

24. @FO_ASchatzThe editor-in-chief of analytics bible FootballOutsiders.com and a good source for stats and snark.

25. @JimTrotter_NFLA veteran NFL reporter who left Sports Illustrated for ESPN in 2014, Trotter is a voice of subtlety and reason in a field that often lacks both.

26. @SI_PeterKingAn easy target because, well, he can be kind of an NFL apologist / company man / overmoralizing reductionist, but King has great sources, interacts with his followers and — with a few notable exceptions when he was fed bad intel — is usually right.

27. @AdamSchefterThe hyper-active (as opposed to hyperactive, like many of his colleagues) ESPN reporter is maybe the best NFL newsman out there. But with nearly 4 million Twitter users in his corner, you are probably following this guy already, right?

28. @ByTimGrahamBuffalo News writer whose eye for great content to share, willingness to mix it up with his followers and his own excellent writing make him a key follow for even non-Bills fans.

29. @BillBarnwellGrantland writer/podcaster who’s among the best at both. Longform info rolls out of this guy’s Twitter account like a veritable river of football goodness during the season.

Reddit option for NFL digital fans

30. Pay regular visits to Reddit’s Fantasy Football board. Reddit is a bit of an acquired taste — it’s like getting into a conversation on the subway, where there are always a couple smart people, a couple bigmouths and a couple lunatics — but it’s the perfect forum to help crystallize the debate in your own mind about FF decisions. Even if you don’t play fantasy football (GASP I don’t), the board is packed with new, debate and interesting angles.

31. Reddit’s regular NFL board is pretty good, too. Same caveat applies as above, but if you’re the type of person who wants to read 550 comments about QB Rex Grossman signing with the Washington Redskins, this is your new home.

32. Listen to these podcasts: The Grantland NFL Podcast. I’ve extolled the virtues of both Grantland and Bill Barnwell so far — if longform NFL writing with tons of relevant stats and insight isn’t your thing (we’re all busy!), you can get your Barnwell fix via your ears instead. Barnwell and co-host Robert Mays have good chemistry and, if you can get past their occasional forays into eye-rolling big-man talk, you will be hard-pressed to find a more informative podcast.

33. The Dave Dameshek Football Program. Criminally relegated to the second tier of national sports voices throughout his career, Dave Dameshek is quirky and hilarious. HILARIOUS. A rotating cast of characters from NFL.com’s Around The NFL talk football, pop culture and life on this excellent podcast.

34. The Around The NFL podcast. Speaking of NFL.com’s Around The NFL — which you should be reading, too — the ATL podcast is packed with smart, young football writers talking about the game’s latest news. Were you the type of person who can nerd out with hourlong conversations about the best backup defensive linemen in the AFC South? You’ll love these guys.

35. The NFL Junkies podcast. New from USA Today, NFL editor Chris D’Amico  talks pigskin with writers from Gannett properties around the nation. The podcast doesn’t shy away from talking fantasy or gambling, either, which are topics sometimes ignored by the bigger, national shows — and there are some female voices, which are sorely lacking in the NFL sportosphere.

36. The Ross Tucker podcast. Former NFL offensive lineman, Ivy League-educated and not afraid to say whatever’s on his mind. Tucker, currently a SiriusXM host, is one of the better, smarter commentators you’ll find.

37. The Fantasy Football podcast. Home of ESPN fantasy guru Matthew Berry, who is loved and hated with equal fervor by fantasy players around the nation. This podcast — whether intentionally or not — has the sort of seat-of-their-pants, anything-can-happen feeling that makes for wildly entertaining listening, especially once you get a feel for the characters, the inside jokes and the lingo.

38. The Football Today podcast. Currently hosted by Robert Flores and Matt Williamson, this podcast has grown, evolved and occasionally fallen off the map over the years. Right now, though — after a solid couple years of reps — Flores and Williamson seem comfortable and deliver excellent news and info.

39. Have an XBox One? Get the NFL app. Described by TheVerge.com as “a superfan’s dream,” Microsoft has gone all-out to deliver an outstanding way to follow the league. When you combine the app with a paid subscription to NFL Game Pass, you get a sick amount of information — including the fascinating new RFID stats, which include data like the speed of a runner, the precision of routes or the velocity of a tackle.

TeamStream app for NFL digital users

40. Mobile users: grab the Team Stream app… I’ll be honest — I don’t use this app from Bleacher Report. Other fans, however, swear by Team Stream. Instant news, alerts and — supposedly — excellent in-game coverage make the Team Stream app stand out.

41. …or theScore app. While iPhone users only give theScore mobile app three stars, Android users gave offered four-and-a-half stars to the tool that offers “comprehensive coverage of every league, team, and player,” including “real-time alerts for scores, fantasy stats and news.” Worth a look.

42. You’ll get at least one free game to stream online this season.  Depending on how jacked you are to see the Buffalo Bills play the Jacksonville Jaguars in London, the fact that Yahoo! will stream this Oct. 25 game for free to anyone in the world is big news. Just remember you need to be awake by 9:30 AM EST to catch the opening kick.

43. If you’re one of the five people who still have a BlackBerry, apparently CBS Sports has a sweet app. At the start of 2015, BlackBerry held 1.8 percent of the U.S. smartphone market. Quite a fall from the heady days of 2009, when that number was up around 40 percent. Anyhow, if you are adverse to changing your mobile device or, like President Obama, are restricted to a BlackBerry for security reasons, CBS Sports apparently has the go-to app. We will take their word for it.

44. Follow @PFTCommenter on Twitter. Delivering hard truths and barrelfire takes since 2012, PFT Commenter is the raging, smoking id of every football fan whose foundational understanding of the game was laid by a couple of cranky uncles drinking beer on the couch on Sunday afternoon. Laugh-out-loud funny and a fine way to keep abreast of the real issues plaguing the NFL, notably the lack of hustle and a decline in grit.

45. Read Deadspin. While Deadspin come with a great deal of political, social and pearl-clutching caveats (if left-wing thinking and healthy amounts of profanity and poop jokes are not your thing, disregard this advice), it is also the conscience of American sports media. If an NFL player, coach, owner, administrator, cheerleader, equipment manager, writer, outlet or sponsor runs afoul of the hyperbolic apple pie image that the league tries to portray, Deadspin calls foul in a loud, aggressive voice. It can be an ugly job, but Deadspin does it well.

46. Use your favorite team’s mobile app. In a media environment in which NFL teams are more comfortable cranking news and info through their own house organ, the mobile app of your favorite squad has a huge amount of value to your fan experience. Exclusive news (albeit with a decidely vanilla slant), video and promotions pour forth through the app like internally-approved pennies from heaven. Just don’t expect cutting, concise commentary.

47. Read Bob McGinn and Tom Silversteen from The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel.  The Green Bay Packers are one of the NFL’s flagship franchsies, and McGinn and Silversteen are two of the best Packers writers you’ll find. A recent lead from a McGinn column: “Show up fat, soft, slow, disorganized, unemotional and unprepared against Kelly’s Philadelphia Eagles, as coach Mike McCarthy’s Green Bay Packers did Saturday night at Lambeau Field, and you’ll get taken to the proverbial woodshed.” Ouch.

48. Read The Dallas Morning News’s Cowboys coverage. The soap opera that is the Dallas Cowboys is always engaging (not to mention national news). The DMN staff — which includes ESPN personality Tim Cowlishaw — covers the team both thoroughly and with the tounge-in-cheek jocularity that you need when dealing with Jerry Jones on a regular basis.

49. Read Brad Biggs at The Chicago Tribune. A generally enjoyable read about all things Bears, although you need to register with The Chicago Tribune to get access. Great for when you’re wondering about the future of Jacquizz Rodgers.

NFL digital blog

50. Read Black and Blue Review. I have a soft spot for the Carolina Panthers — what can I say, I like Cam Newton — and this is the best Panthers blog out there.

51. Read Nate Ulrich of The Akron Beacon-Journal. The Akron Beacon-Journal remains one of the nation’s better newspapers, and Nate Ulrich’s coverage of the Cleveland Browns is pretty stellar.

52. Read the USA Today sports section.  Breaking news, lots of photos, video, a new podcast and a good, solid daily look at the biggest stories in the NFL. A good alternative to the Worldwide Leader, especially if the big personalities at ESPN are a turn-off.

53. Read the New York Times. You should probably be reading The New York Times anyway, but the coverage of the Giants and Jets is not bad and you feel a lot less dirty than you do when clicking into the Daily News or the Post.

54. Read Dan Steinberg. Scott Allen and Jake Russell also writes on The Washington Post’s D.C. Sports Bog blog, but Steinberg is the heart and soul of the swamp. If you are interested in the neverending series of of unfortunate events (mostly involving RG3) emanating from the nation’s capital, Steinberg is a must-read.

55. Follow J.J. Watt (@JJWatt) on Twitter. The Houston Texans defensive end may be the best player in the NFL and he’s been known to drop semi-hot takes on Twitter with some regularity. If nothing else, an interesting look into the mind of a high-profile NFLer.

56. Follow Reggie Bush (@ReggieBush) on Twitter. “Wait,” you’re asking. “Isn’t Reggie Bush…not especially good?” While it is true that Bush has been a moderately successful player (at best) in the NFL, he has 3.03 million Twitter followers. He must be saying something interesting! When you figure it out, let me know.

57. Follow Aaron Rodgers (@AaronRodgers12) on Twitter.  There is a mild subversive streak running through Rodgers’s feed that includes references to Jack Handey’s Deep Thoughts, self-mockery and hype for Broadway plays and Ellen DeGeneres. And a lot of PGA stuff. A LOT.

58. Follow the NFL (@NFL) on Instagram. As you may have guessed, there are a lot of photos here.

59. Follow the NFL Network (@NFLNetwork) on Instagram. If you liked that @NFL Instagram account, double down with this one.

60. Get the NFL Now mobile app. Described as “a treasure trove of video for football fans,” this is the ideal app for people who don’t feel like reading anymore.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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