October 24, 2023
Having worked for NBA teams for over 20 years, I got to see a lot of games live. A LOT of games. But when I moved on to working for NHL and NFL teams, I realized seeing my favorite NBA teams play wasn’t nearly as easy as it used to be. And as a cord-cutter, you can catch the big nationally televised games, but local broadcasts can be tough.
Watching the NBA season without a cable subscription has always been hit or miss for basketball fans. And with the league changing the season to boost broadcast revenue by adding the new In-Season Tournament, it could be even harder. The In-Season Tournament is a new annual competition for all 30 teams, debuting Friday, November 3 with a stage of group play, before moving on to a knockout round on Monday, December 4 and culminating in a championship game for the last two teams on the following Saturday, December 9.
That changes the requirements a bit for cord-cutters who want to catch all of the action when the 2023–24 NBA season starts. As in the past, big matchups will be broadcast nationally on ABC, ESPN/ESPN2, TNT, and NBA TV. And you can get most, if not all, of these covered with a single live TV streaming package.
Unfortunately, it’s not the same situation for the regional sports networks (RSNs) that air the bulk of the teams’ games. Fox Sports, NBC Sports, YES Network, Marquee Sports Network, and other RSNs have been dropped from YouTube TV, Hulu With Live TV, Sling TV, and fuboTV over carriage-fee disputes.
If you’re mainly interested in following your local team this season, your best bet is to determine which streaming service has an agreement with your team’s regional network and go with that one. Chances are it will also stream some or all the cable networks mentioned above. A few teams still broadcast on over-the-air channels but those are slowly going away.
As for now, it looks like some key In-Season Tournament matchups will be broadcast nationally on ABC, ESPN/ESPN2, TNT, and NBA TV, but you will likely need your home team’s regional network to view the rest of their games and an NBA League Pass subscription to watch the whole tournament.
Below is a guide to all your options, whether you just want to follow your team or the whole league.
Over the air
The good news is you can access ABC for free if you have an over-the-air TV antenna and are within the radius of your local ABC affiliate’s broadcast tower. If you don’t have an antenna or want to find out if you’re in range, see my other article ‘Cutting the Cord Part 2 — TV Antennas’ for details. The bad news about ABC is they’re scheduled to air only about two dozen of this year’s nationally televised games. However, they do include some of the NBA’s marquee matchups, including two Christmas Day games — Warriors vs. Nuggets and Lakers vs. Celtics — as well as the In-Season Tournament final on December 9.
If you are looking to catch the rest of the games, you can watch the remaining games with some combination of the following services.
The easiest way to catch many of the cable telecasts is with the Sling TV streaming service, but you’ll need to pony up for a monthly subscription. For $40 per month (currently half off for the first month), the Sling Orange package will get you ESPN and TNT. You can also get NBA TV with the Sports Extra package for an additional $11 per month. With a TV antenna to catch the ABC broadcasts, you’ll have everything covered.
You can also get ESPN, TNT, and NBA TV with DirectTV Stream. All you need is the Choice package for $99 per month, currently being offered for $10 off for the first three months. You might also be able to get your local team’s games, as DirectTV Stream is the only service to offer a full complement of regional sports networks, including the NBC Sports regional networks, Mid-Atlantic Sports Network, New England Sports Network, YES Network, and Spectrum SportsNet LA. To find out what’s available in your area, enter your ZIP code into DirectTV Stream’s channel lookup. Again, you’ll still need an antenna to watch games on ABC.
Both Hulu + Live TV and YouTube TV will get you access to ABC, ESPN, and TNT, for a flat fee, but only YouTube TV offers NBA TV, giving it the edge basketball fans. Disney just raised the price for Hulu + Live TV to $77 per month but is discounting to $55 a month for the first three months.
With just the one channel package for each of these services, however, you don’t get the customizability of Sling TV or DirecTV Stream, so keep that in mind if you plan to use your subscription beyond basketball season.
FuboTV offers ABC and ESPN in its $75-per-month Pro package, but none of its packages include TNT. This package also includes regional networks NBC Sports Bay Area and NBC Sports California, which is perfect if you’re a fan of the Kings, Warriors, Lakers or Clippers. You can add NBA TV by purchasing the Sports Lite add-on for an additional $11 a month.
For the truly hardcore basketball fan there’s NBA League Pass, the league’s official streaming service. For $100 a year or $15 per month, you can watch every live out-of-market game that isn’t being broadcast nationally on any of the four networks mentioned above.
A League Pass subscription allows you to watch every feed (home, away, mobile view, plus additional languages and camera angles) of a game on your TV, computer, tablet, and smartphone. Games originally broadcast on ESPN, TNT, and ABC are available three hours after completion in the video archives. You also get anytime access to a curated selection of ‘classic’ games.
For $150 a year or $23 per month, you can upgrade to NBA League Pass Premium. This subscription enables you to stream games on three devices at once and watch all games commercial free.
If you only want to follow your favorite team there’s NBA Team Pass. It’s a less-expensive alternative to NBA League Pass. For $90 a year, you get access to all your favorite team’s local broadcasts, both home and away.
One problem with this option is that NBA blackout rules still apply. If you live in your team’s ‘home’ market you won’t be able to watch their games, even with a Team Pass or League Pass subscription. And your team’s home market isn’t necessarily defined by your town’s city limits.
To figure out if you’d be blacked out, the NBA determines blackout zones by the following:
- Using zip code if watching via a satellite television provider.
- A combination of zip code and cable system distribution territory if watching via a cable television provider
- OR, by the IP address associated with your internet connection or your mobile device’s GPS coordinates.
That means this isn’t a cord-cutting option for everyone. You can see which teams are not available in your area in the blackout section on this page when you choose your subscription.
Despite all these options, streaming live NBA games continues to be a challenge for cord-cutters. The availability of national broadcasts through streaming services gives you a access to some of the biggest matchups of the season. But local fans who want to follow their team are still left out, for the most part. Until streaming options for regional sports networks become more widely available, unfortunately these are your best options.
Have you ‘cut the cord?’ Or thinking about it? Debbie and I are formulating our plan. And me being a sports fan I’m concerned about getting access to my favorite games and teams. If you’ve already cut the cord, which service(s) did you choose. How are you accounting for live sports? Are you seeing all you want? Part of our plan is to install an over the air antenna in our attic supported by coaxial cable infrastructure — though I’m looking for a way to run that signal over our Ethernet network. Debbie and I already use Paramount+, Hulu, Disney+, Netflix, Maxand AppleTV. That seems like a little overkill now that I see it written.
Let Debbie and I know what you think in the comments, DMs and emails as we really enjoy hearing from you. Thanks again to all those following Debbie and I through our home building journey. It’s great to hear your success stories and suggestions as we move through the process. And if you like the content I’m posting each week, don’t forget to ‘Like’ and ‘Follow.’
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