Q. I want to watch the Washington Nationals on a streaming service so I don’t have to subscribe to cable. Is there anyway to do this? There must be someway, right? — Danny, Arlington, Virginia.
Danny, MASN, the regional sports channel that carries both the Nationals and the Baltimore Orioles, has largely only been available in the Baltimore/Washington market with a subscription to a pay TV service such as Comcast’s Xfinity, Cox, Verizon, Dish or DIRECTV.
MASN’s owners, the Peter Angelos family, which also owns the Orioles, has steadfastly refused to sell the channel to live streaming services such as DIRECTV Now and Sling TV, which are less expensive and do not require equipment fees. MASN has also balked at suggestions that it sell the channel directly to consumers for a monthly fee, as HBO, Showtime and several other channels now do online.
So without subscribing to cable or satellite, is there anyway to watch the Nats or the O’s? (This question has become more urgent with Opening Day coming tomorrow.)
Actually, there are three ways, and one still includes giving your money to a cable service. Let me explain.
1. Get a MLB.TV subscription — and a VPN.
VPN stands for Virtual Private Network, a software that you can download that will enable you to use an IP address different from your own. For instance, if you live in Arlington, Virginia, you could insert an IP address supplied by the VPN company that would make it look like you live in Denmark. The cost of a VPN varies, but many services sell them for under $10 a month.
By using a VPN, you could subscribe to the MLB.TV plan for $118.99 this season, and watch every Washington Nationals game or Baltimore Oriole game without blackout from your home in Virginia. This is also true for other markets. For example, a Los Angeles resident could watch the Dodgers, a New York resident could watch the Yankees and so on. This can be advantageous because you wouldn’t have to subscribe to a cable or satellite TV service to get the regional channel that airs your home team’s games.
Normally, MLB.TV would be required to blackout the in-market game because the regional channel in your market (MASN in Danny’s case) has the exclusive rights. But with the VPN, MLB.TV wouldn’t know you live in that market.
But what exactly is the law that MLB suggests you would break if you use a VPN? The league is silent on that one. There is no reference to a criminal statute in the VPN section, and there is no record that the league has ever taken a violator to either criminal or civil court.
There are plenty of online testimonies from subscribers that the league has cancel their subscriptions for using a VPN, but again, no record it has ever brought criminal charges, despite the implicit threat it would do so.
I think it’s pretty clear that there isn’t a specific law that would govern the use of a VPN to stream the games. Otherwise, the league would cite it, and use it, when it catches someone in violation.
Afterall, the league actually refers to the use of VPNs in MLB.TV’s FAQ section for its blackout policy. The league explains how a game could be blacked out in a home because of a VPN.
“If you are accessing the Internet through a VPN connection, you might be getting a blackout message because the host IP address for the VPN is within the restricted range of the game that you are trying to access,” the site says. (For example,if your VPN uses a St. Louis IP, you couldn’t watch the Cardinals.)
MLB.TV’s FAQ adds that you should try dismantling the VPN and then see if your out-of-market game is still blacked out. But it doesn’t take the opportunity here to say that using a VPN while watching MLB.TV is against the law.
However, if the VPN seems a bit risky for you, or perhaps a bit too techie, there is another way.
But not Comcast’s TV service. Let me explain again.
2. Subscribe to Comcast’s ‘Instant TV’ streaming service.
Comcast is offering MASN in its ‘Instant TV’ streaming service, which is available to subscribers of the cable operator’s Internet service. (That means it’s only available if Comcast is available in your area.)
Instant TV, which Comcast launched in 2017, is an Internet-based service that offers dozens of channels in a variety of packages. You can watch the channels using an ‘’Xfinity Stream’ app on Roku streaming devices, and smart phones and tablets.
The basic plan, which costs $20 a month (up from $18 last year), is dominated by local channels such as the affiliates for ABC, NBC, CBS and Fox. Instant TV subscribers can supplement the basic package with one or more of three add-on plans, including one for Sports and News, which costs an extra $36.50 (up from $35 last year) a month.
The Sports and News plan includes roughly 15 channels including CNN, ESPN, Fox News and the NFL Network. And in the Baltimore/Washington market, Sports and News also includes MASN, MASN 2 and NBC Sports Washington.
An Instant TV subscription with Sports and News will enable Washington/Baltimore residents to watch MASN without paying TV set-top or installation fees. (The regional sports fee is included in the $36.50 cost.) The consumer just has to order the online service and watch it on the app. There are also no cancellation fees.
While Instant TV will enable cord-cutters in the Baltimore/Washington area to legally stream the Nats and Orioles games for the first time, there are two catches.
One, as noted before, you must have Xfinity Internet service. But you don’t have to have Xfinity TV service, or an Xfinity cable set-top. You do need, however, a subscription to its Internet service.
Two, you can only stream MASN at home via your Internet home network. That means you can’t watch the Nats and Orioles on the go. If you try to watch MASN on Instant TV away from your Xfinity home network, you will get a message saying the channel isn’t available.
The two caveats will likely reduce the appeal of Instant TV for some, particularly those who don’t have Comcast available in their area. But the ability to watch MASN for $56.50 a month ($20 for basic plan: $36.50 for News and Sports add-on plan) without paying additional fees such as the monthly set-top rental could be what many baseball fans have been looking for.
3. Subscribe to Layer3 TV
Layer3 is a TV service that’s delivered over a Internet-based set-top and costs $80 a month, not including the set-top rental fee.
The service, which offers more than 200 channels online via a dedicated set-top, actually has MASN in its lineup for Washington, D.C. area residents. (Note: Layer3 now carries both MASN and MASN 2.) However, Layer3 is not available in all DC neighborhoods. (And apparently not at all in Baltimore). And even if it is available, program packages start at $80 a month. That’s not exactly the cheap alternative you’re seeking. (If you are interested in finding out if Layer3 is available in your area, click here. )
It’s fair to say that all three options come with catches, or some unpleasant aspect. But at least there are some options for those not enamored with cable or satellite. And until MASN changes policy, that’s better than nothing.
— Phillip Swann