The United States and Belgium play in the first knockout round of the World Cup today. Kickoff is at 4pm in New York and 10pm in Brussels.
The time may be inconvenient for Belgians, but at least they can watch the match for free on the public broadcasters VRT (in Dutch) and RTBF (in French). Not so much in the US, where the English-language broadcaster is ESPN, a cable channel that requires a television subscription.
ESPN may nonetheless break its own record for streaming sports online, since the match is happening during the American workday, meaning many people will watch on their computers. (The network’s stream suffered some outages “due to unprecedented demand” when the US played last week.)
But those who don’t pay for TV, or just want an easier way to watch the match online, have a few other options.
In the US, the simplest, fastest, and least expensive option is Univision’s live stream. (It’s available on the web and through Univision’s apps for iOS and Android.) The broadcast is in Spanish, which is perfect for the more than 37 million Americans who speak the language. Everyone else can mute the audio, enjoy the background noise, or turn on the captions, which are also in Spanish, for a language lesson.
Note, however, that Univision’s stream isn’t legally accessible outside the US. This is also the last round of the tournament that Univision plans to stream online for free. Watching the quarterfinals, semifinals, and finals will require a pay TV subscription.
If you’re watching Univision’s stream, don’t understand Spanish, but still want commentary during the match, then mute Univision and turn to the radio. ESPN Radio is broadcasting the match for free on its affiliated stations and online.
One advantage of this approach is that ESPN Radio’s announcers tend to receive higher marks than their counterparts on television. And without the aid of visuals, they have to better explain what’s happening on the field.
The downside of mixing media, though, is that television, live streams, and audio feeds aren’t all synced up. You can watch Univision for free on over-the-air TV, but that’s more than a minute ahead of Univision’s (and ESPN’s) live streams online. ESPN Radio online, meanwhile, is about 10 seconds behind Univision online. And the timing of ESPN on over-the-air radio will vary based on your station.
The match, of course, is streaming online outside the US: on the BBC in the United Kingdom, CBC in Canada, NPO in the Netherlands, and elsewhere. Those streams are free, but they check to make sure you’re inside the country, which is tough luck for Americans.
There are plenty of ways to get around such restrictions, though, using virtual private networks (VPNs). Two reliable and free VPN services are TunnelBear and Hola. Just know that using them to pretend you’re in another country probably violates terms of service, and possibly the law.