Here’s how to watch the Super Bowl without cable
Millions of people cut the cord, but the Super Bowl broadcast is still well within your reach.
Whether you’re a football fan or not, it’s hard to deny that the Super Bowl is one of the biggest collective cultural events of the year. Last year, 111.9 million people tuned in to watch the chaotic mix of slick commercials, Madonna, and the occasional bit of actual football.
But, having the big game in your home isn’t a given anymore. By the end of 2016, 16.7 million people in total had ditched cable. Estimates put that number around 22.2 million at the end of 2017. The typical TV route isn’t for everyone anymore, but there are other options for tuning into this year’s Super Bowl. Here’s a breakdown of your choices.
Use a dedicated app
Since NBC is broadcasting the game this year, the network would love for you to stream it through the NBC Sports App on various platforms like Roku, but that requires a login from a TV provider, which defeats our whole purpose here.
Luckily, other apps like Verizon’s go90, Yahoo Sports, and the NFL’s official app will also stream the game in real time for free, even if you’re not a Verizon subscriber. If you have a Google ChromeCast, you can send the stream to your big screen and watch it without hunching over a phone or a tablet.
Of course, there may be a delay in watching via stream, which isn’t ideal if you’re trying to entertain your followers with live Tweets. You may also get a different selection of commercials during the show depending on the individual sponsorship arrangements in the various apps.
Get an over-the-air antenna
Because the game is on a big network, you can pull down a really nice HD broadcast using a digital over-the-air antenna. You can check out the extremely exhaustive Wirecutter guide to antennas. You’ll want to make sure you check a site like AntennaWeb to make absolutely sure that you’re in the coverage area for the local NBC affiliate.
It’s worth noting that you likely can’t just hook up any old CRT TV in the basement to a set of rabbit ears and expect to pick up the game. TVs that are too old can’t handle the digital signal, which took over in 2009. You can still get a digital conversion box, but hooking up a nice OTA antenna to your flat screen will give you a much better experience on the whole unless you’re really into the retro TV vibe.
You can, however, build your own TV antenna. Here’s a tutorial on how to put one together.
Sign up for a streaming service with local affiliate coverage
In the past year or so, streaming services like Hulu with Live TV and YouTube TV have started to include local network programming in some markets. My market in upstate New York isn’t one of them, sadly, but others are. You can check the lists here for Hulu, here for YouTube TV, and here for Dish.
Watch someone else watch it via stream
Recently, a user on Twitch—an Amazon-owned streaming service specifically for gamers— managed to stream an entire UFC pay-per-view to his viewers by holding a controller and pretending to “play” the fights as a video game. It didn’t make the whole thing any more legal in a strict sense, but it did manage to get by the Twitch sensors that go looking for streams of copyrighted broadcasts.
Simply put: Streaming a broadcast you don’t own—or at least don’t have permission for—is against copyright law and can get you suspended from whatever platform you use or worse. This is true for Facebook Live, Instagram Live, Periscope, U Stream, and pretty much any other utility that lets you send out live video.
That said, streams will be out there. Sites from other countries often aren’t subjected to rigorous copyright policing, and the sheer volume of live streaming can make it difficult for big providers like Facebook and Periscope to patrol. Chances are, if you dig around on the hashtags or sketchy subreddits, you’ll find someone pointing their camera phone at the game for your amusement.
While this can sometimes come with funny commentary, it also typically means a low-quality stream with lots of distractions. These streams also typically get shut down with some regularity, so unless you really enjoy the thrill of hunting through lots of garbage, it’s not your best bet.
Go somewhere and watch the game
Maybe your TV is broken or you just want to be around other humans so you can chant, yell, and otherwise participate in a collective social unit. Then, your best bet is to find a place showing the game.
Pretty much every bar and restaurant with a TV will likely show the game since it’s on broadcast TV and not pay-per-view, which can cost an establishment thousands of dollars if they show it without the right permissions. Bonus: you can order wings.
Just skip straight to the social media posts
According to Twitter, the 2017 Super Bowl spawned TK Tweets. If you don’t care about the game, but you want to stay current with all the new memes it will spawn, you can abandon watching the broadcast completely and just read the social media posts. Monday will also bring with it a huge torrent of recap and wrap-up stories to get you ready for those water cooler conversations, even if you spent Sunday night training for Ninja Warrior or knitting a scarf or whatever.