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Oh My Tech!: Cutting the TV cord could be tough for sports fans

Published January 23, 2014 8:59 am

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

I am ready to cut the ties to both cable and satellite (and thus save beaucoup bucks), but my wife — not so much. She loves the Jazz, and the only way she can watch them is through one of the more-than-basic satellite packages. Is there a streaming service similar to Netflix, Hulu Plus, etc. that will allow us to utilize our Wi-Fi to watch live sports games? Thank you.

Bryan M. Woodman.

Unfortunately, Bryan, when you're talking about sports — whether it's professional or college — it's only about the money to those who run the leagues. Hundreds of millions of dollars are spent to televise professional sports such as Utah Jazz games on television. It's the primary revenue generator for the league, even over ticket sales.

That means the NBA, NFL or MLB are not about to let the live broadcasting of games occur without everyone paying money for the privilege to watch them. So the answer is no, you can't watch the Jazz without either paying for the ROOT SPORTS cable channel, which has the exclusive rights to televise the Jazz games and only comes with a cable TV subscription, or paying a minimum of $139 for an NBA League Pass for one season, which gives you the ability to watch NBA games on your computer, tablet or mobile device.

The NBA, like the NFL and the MLB, does not broadcast any of its basketball games live on the Internet or TV for free. The only exception would be the games that are televised on ABC on Sunday afternoons. Broadcast networks such as ABC, NBC, CBS and Fox are free over the air with just an antenna.

Because there is so much money in televising sports, there is not a Hulu-like or Netflix-like streaming service for live sports. The leagues would not dare start their own streaming services or partner with someone to create one because that would threaten their lucrative partnerships and contracts with television broadasters. For now, the only live sporting events you can expect to still see for free from those major leagues would be things like the Super Bowl, World Series or the Olympics because those are still the property of major over-the-air broadcasters.

Whether you can save some money "cutting the cord" from cable or satellite TV depends on what you still want to watch. First, it involves doing a little math.

For example, say you pay about $190 per month for Comcast cable television, which includes a landline phone connection, Internet connectivity and cable television with one premium service such as HBO or Showtime. That adds up to more than $2,200 per year, a big expense.

Here is one possible alternative to cable that could be cheaper depending on what you're willing to miss out on: Get a Roku device, which is anywhere from $50 to $100, and hook it up to the TV. This is a box that streams video content such as Netflix, Amazon Instant Watch, Hulu Plus and hundreds more channels to your television via an Internet connection. Other devices are available that provide similar streaming services, such as video gaming consoles and smart TVs.

You still will need that Internet connection to use the Roku, and that could cost at least $50 per month for a plan fast enough to stream HD video. Of course, providers such as Comcast and CenturyLink will give you discounts for a trial period before that regular price kicks in if you're first-time subscribers.

With the Roku, you can get the NBA League Pass for $140 to watch all the Utah Jazz games live on your television through your Internet connection. With this membership, you also now have the option to watch them on a mobile device such as your laptop, smartphone or computer tablet.

The major over-the-air broadcasters such as ABC and NBC come to your TV for free. Some cable broadcasters have apps for the Roku that show limited programming from their networks. But some networks don't have Roku apps or allow you to watch their shows via the Internet, such as AMC, which broadcasts "The Walking Dead" and "Mad Men." Then if you want, you can add Netflix for another $9 per month or $8 per month for Hulu Plus, which gets you access to many shows from some, but not all, cable networks (but be warned, Hulu Plus still shows commercials even though you pay the monthly fee).

If you add all of that together, it potentially could cut your cable bill in half, but you also would get about half the video programming that you got before with satellite and cable. It all depends on what sports programming and TV shows you can't live without.

If you have a tech question for Vince, email him at ohmytech@sltrib.com, and he'll try to answer it for his column in The Salt Lake Tribune or on its website. For an archive of past columns, go to http://www.sltrib.com/Topics/ohmytech.