Being a soccer fan in the United States is not easy, and this is doubly true if you're attempting to watch the 2014 World Cup. While you may not be able to see the entire tournament unless you're a cable subscriber or know a thing or two about proxy servers, everyday users can get their fill of the other kind of football without having to plunk down too many additional pennies.
A site called LiveSoccer has a comprehensive schedule of every World Cup game, as well as which networks they will air on in your country. Here, we focus on viewers in the United States, with some tips for the rest of the English-speaking world.
Watching games on the big screen may be the most fun, but streaming to other devices offers some advantages. If you're away from home, you can watch them on your mobile device (or a portable streaming device). Users without TVs or a cable subscription can stream many games to their computers, and cord-cutters can use a set-top box such as Roku. Either way, you'll still have to watch them live; no service offers convenient ways to watch replays of games that have already happened.
The paid option
If simplicity and completeness trump frugality for you, invest in a cable package that includes ESPN. Between ESPN, ESPN2 and ESPN3 (which may or may not come in a single cable package, depending on your provider), you also get the ability to stream every single World Cup game in real-time, and on a variety of different devices, including computers, tablets and streaming media boxes such as Roku and Xbox One. Many of the games are available in Spanish from ESPN Deportes as well.
That said, if you absolutely can't or don't want to pay, the first thing you'll have to accept is that there is no legal way to stream every game in the tournament. You'll have access to a good chunk of them, but for the rest, you'll have to journey to a bar or a friend's couch.
Watch ABC Online
In the U.S., ABC has the rights to broadcast many World Cup games on network TV. ABC is free to watch provided you have an antenna, but streaming it on a computer or mobile device is also possible. If online antenna service Aereo is available in your area, you can use that service to both watch and record World Cup games. The service costs $8 per month, and Aereo lists available cities on its website. You can also access Aereo via smartphones, tablets and certain streaming devices, like Roku and Chromecast.
As an alternative, soccer fans can access ABC using FilmOn, which also works on computers, mobiles and certain streaming devices. This site offers similar functionality to Aereo (and was, in fact, originally called Aereo Killer). There's no charge to watch local stations in standard definition, as long as you're willing to watch a few ads. HD access costs $9.95 per month, or $99.50 per year. Like Aereo, though, FilmOn tends to be available only in and around major urban areas. (The website does not have a comprehensive availability listing, so visit the main page and click on Local TV to see if you can access your local channels.)
For Spanish-speakers, it's also worth noting that Univision will broadcast every World Cup game as well. Depending on where you live, this station may be available with Aereo, and its San Francisco channel is available via FilmOn. Users can also watch games directly on the Univision Deportes website. For those who don't speak Spanish (or want to translate the page), clicking on the first major link that appears on the website (it will read "Gratis en vivo") will bring you to a free livestream of whichever game is currently airing.
Use a proxy server
There is one other option, although it exists in a legal gray area for some U.S. residents. In the United Kingdom, the BBC and ITV will alternate broadcasting every single game. Both networks offer live TV online, but only UK residents can access it. If you can fool the sites into thinking that you have a British IP address, you can access them, too. By using a proxy server via a browser extension likeHola Better Internet (free, with a $5-per-month option for more bandwidth), you can watch the British World Cup broadcasts.
Using international proxy servers comes with a whole host of caveats, however. It's not technically illegal; but last year, a district court in California ruled against using technology to mask IP addresses, meaning that anyone who takes issue with your proxy server use could take you to court. It's not likely to happen, especially if you live outside California. That said, if you get caught and someone wants to go after you, legal precedent is on their side.
There are many different proxy server websites and plug-ins available, and each one varies in scope, price and quality. Tom's Guide used Hola's free servers for its tests, and we were able to get ITV to work, but not the BBC. We had better luck with the free version of Hide My Ass! proxy server (represented by its titular donkey), but the video quality was variable, whereas Hola tended to be more stable.
Keep in mind that free proxy servers are often inconsistent when it comes to streaming video, and paid proxy servers are generally much more reliable (both Hola and Hide My Ass! offer more comprehensive paid options, for $5 per month and $11.52 per month, respectively). When dealing with massively popular content like the World Cup, this may prove doubly true.
The bottom line is that there is no perfect solution for World Cup streaming unless you're willing to pay for ESPN. Hardcore soccer fans will probably have to open their wallets, but if all you want is a game here and there, there are a few ways to watch the tournament for a few bucks at most.