As someone who lives out of the Panthers broadcast market, I think I've been through about every iteration trying to see the Panthers on TV. While everyone probably knows that DirecTV and Sunday Ticket are the gold standard in seeing games live during the season, there may be some of you out there that, for one reason or another, can't get or don't want satellite service. On top of that, if you're looking to catch preseason action, Sunday Ticket isn't an option anyway.
I'm not going to delve into how to "hear" games live. I personally think the Panther radio broadcast crew is weak for a pro team, and I'm not going to advocate something I don't believe in. Besides, if you've got satellite radio, you're all set anyway.
I also acknowledge that NFL Network is making every preseason game available as a replay the next week, but this doesn't help with getting your fix for live game action.
We all know that the NFL takes streaming of their games online as a copyright infringement (which it is), and it's serious about shutting sites like this down with the cooperation of Big Brother, the Federal Government. With several years of experience, I've learned (the hard way sometimes) that there are several legitimate options to follow the action live available, and they're now more affordable than you would think. I've even heard of ways to skirt the law, too, and managed to see some of these work very well. Anyway, I'll group these together by preseason and regular season and offer what I think are the pros and cons to each.and the costs (yeah, it's not free) after the jump.Preseason Options Available
Option 1 - NFL.com Preseason Live
The NFL has, for the first time, created a package to allow the viewing of preseason games live. Their web-only package is call Preseason Live, and is available for purchase directly from NFL.com.
The package is only $19.99, and allows you to both see this year's games live as well as commercial-free replays of preseason action from 2010 and 2011. I just signed up for this one yesterday and watched a bit of the first three games from 2011. The quality is excellent (as long as you've got a reasonable broadband connection - 1.5Mbps or higher), and in today's day and age, connecting the video from a laptop to a TV is a snap.
There are apps in development for tablets (iPad and Droid), but they haven't been released yet. Also, it's an online-only solution for home computers, meaning you have to have an internet connection and you're tethered to the computer during the game.
If you're committed to seeing the preseason, this is the best option available. And, at 20 bucks, I think it's a bargain.
Option 2 - Tell DirecTV you've moved to a Charlotte Address
If you've already got DirecTV, there's a chance you satellite dish is pointed in the direction that will allow it to pick up local channels from Charlotte with having to change anything. I've seen this work in areas that are within a few hundred miles of Charlotte (from Atlanta to VA Beach to middle Tennessee), and it gets you all of the trappings of local Charlotte TV. The best part - if you've already got DirecTV, there's no additional cost.
Well, it's not what I'd call "ethical". You're essentially going to have to lie to DirecTV. I'm sure we've all resorted to subterfuge of one kind or another when it comes to watching Panthers games, so I guess it "is what it is". Also, the weather interference issues with the satellite feed are even worse due to being on the edges of the satellite signal footprint on the ground.
This is one that I sit on the fence about. It DOES give you access to the games live, but there's the integrity aspect. Let your conscience be your guide.
Option 3 - Slingbox with a partner that has local broadcasts
This solution does give you the TV broadcast as it happens live from whatever TV is connected on the other end. I've seen the service in action, and the quality is amazingly good and allows you to even operate the TV "tuner" remotely. It could also be considered a "permanent" solution, as you'd also be able to use the hardware to see regular season games, too.
There's hardware to buy, and it's not cheap. Options start at a couple hundred bucks, and go all the way to $300. It also requires a cabled network connection, so if your router/modem/access point isn't close to the device, you've got additional hardware to buy. You also have to partner with someone who is in the Panthers local broadcast area.
I'd treat this as a last resort, and would seriously consider NOT shelling out upwards of $300 just to see preseason action. And even though you can use it during the regular season too, there's other options out there to accomplish that. I'd personally pass on this one and wait for the replays on NFL Network.
Regular Season Options
Option 1 - DirecTV and NFL Sunday Ticket
As I said in the opening, this is the Gold Standard. To make the package sweeter, DirecTV has "lowered" the price for the service this year to $199. There is a caveat here - it's the "base" package for that price. What the base package doesn't include are the Game Mix Channel, the Red Zone Channel, and Sunday Ticket-to-go, which is what you have to have to see games anywhere via the web on a computer or any smart phone. Adding these adds another $100 to the package, but it's still cheaper than the $350 from previous years.
You have to have DirecTV. I've used this for years, and to be honest, Sunday Ticket is the ONLY reason I still use DirecTV. Their customer service is not that great, and they nickel and dime you for extra boxes, HD service, DVR service, and on and on. Ive learned that they way that DirecTV's business model is set up is that "the squeaky wheel gets the grease". What I mean by that is that over time, your account builds credits that can be redeemed for discounts, but you have to ask and ask firmly. I personally hate this, but my wife has become adept at hammering away on DirecTV once a quarter or so to get discounts and monthly bill relief. As an example, she called not long ago and got the entire Sunday Ticket package for only $147.50 and managed to get 20 bucks a month knocked off for the next year. She's also been successful in getting some move channels thrown in during the season by playing the "Football Widow" card. Not that she is, mind you...she's as ate up with the Panthers as I am.
This is the option that I use, and I'm pretty happy with it. As long as my wife keeps doing her voodoo with their customer service, I'm more than likely to keep this as the solution of choice.
Sunday Ticket via Playstation 3
This is pretty well-kept secret. Last year, DirecTV and the NFL partnered with Sony to offer Sunday Ticket via an app from the online store. It has the exact same functionality as the full-blown satellite service via the PS3 and the web. Last year, it was essentially the same price ($350) as the satellite service, and was the only option other than DirecTV where you could get the service.
It's still a pricey solution, and it requires you to have a PS3. Also, it's a one TV solution, as you only get the games where the PS3 is hooked up.
Depending on the prices this year, as the Sunday Ticket package was discounted, I'd have to take a wait and see approach for this one. It's the only option that doesn't require a satellite dish, and breaking the monopoly of DirecTV isn't a bad thing.
So there you have it - thanks for reading and I hope this is some useful information for someone out there. Here's to an exciting 2012! GO PANTHERS!!
And if you're in the Atlanta area and itching to see a game, my wife and I would love to share our Sunday Ticket subscription and our home on Sundays. You can reach me via the e-mail address in my profile to get acquainted and make arrangements.