“Cord-cutter” is a word that’s entered the American lexicon. It means someone who has done away with cable TV, but not for reasons of abstinence; instead, they’ve replaced it with the Internet, watching the same programs without paying a subscription.
The last thing keeping many would-be cord-cutters attached to their bloated, expensive cable subscriptions — you know, the $80+ monthly fee that maybe you split with roommates, maybe you don’t — is sports, because sports remain pretty hard to tap into unless you’ve got cable: ESPN, TNT, the local channels, etc. Not anymore.
Microsoft announced today that Xbox Live, a $5-a-month subscription service, will soon provide ESPN and ESPN2 (including Monday Night Football) as well as access to NBA League Pass and some NHL games. NBA League Pass will cost an individual fee, but this means that sports fans are able to more or less leave behind cable in favor of Xbox Live. The caveats here are that, if you’re a local fan, you might still need cable to catch those NBA games, which are probably blacked out on NBA League Pass — for example, you’d need MSG to see the Knicks. The MLB is already on Xbox with a set up similar to that of the NBA. And when you factor in that most NFL games are available on basic-cable networks Fox, CBS, and NBC, the NFL’s fully covered minus the occasional NFL Network games, which you might not get even with a cable subscription.
With the Internet and more comprehensive televising of sports, fandom has become a much less regional notion; Americans are fans of English soccer teams even though they’ve never been to England, or they follow their hometown team obsessively from 3,000 miles away. If ESPN, cable’s biggest asset in the eyes of any dedicated sports fan, becomes available without a cable subscription and for a fraction of the price — consider the game changed.