For cord-cutters who’ve given up bloated TV bundles in favor of cheaper streaming services, March Madness can be frustrating.
To watch the full tournament—even without cable—you’ll still need access to CBS, TNT, TBS, and TruTV, and three of those four channels are only available through a pay TV package. That means paying for dozens of other channels you don’t want and enduring a sudden spike in your TV bill.
But if you’re willing to jump through some hoops, you can circumvent these requirements and watch much of March Madness—possibly even every game—for free. You won’t even have to resort to piracy, which has its own pitfalls to consider beyond the obvious legal and moral ones.
Get Paramount+ for free
This part’s easy: With a Paramount+ Premium subscription, you can watch every March Madness game that airs on CBS. While the service normally costs $10 per month, you can currently enter the coupon code BETWEEN on Paramount+’s website to get a free month of service if you don’t already have an active subscription. Just make sure to select the Premium tier, as the ad-supported tier doesn’t include a live CBS stream.
Read my full column from a couple weeks ago for detailed instructions on how to redeem these codes and avoid being billed at the end.
March Madness app preview loopholes
Other March Madness games will air on TNT, TBS, TNT, and TruTV, none of which are available without an entire bundle of pay TV channels. (The cheapest streaming bundle that includes all three is Sling TV Blue, which costs $35 per month.)
But as in previous years, the official March Madness Live app and website both offer a free three-hour preview across all games with no sign-in required.
While three hours is barely enough to cover a single game, each device gets its own three-hour preview with no sign-in required. That means you can employ an array of tricks to extend your “preview” time even further:
Switch browsers: If you’re watching on a laptop or desktop computer, you’ll get a fresh preview window for each browser. Simply by moving between Chrome, Microsoft EdgeFirefox, Opera, Vivaldi, brave, and Apple’s Safari, you can cover a huge chunk of the tournament. (While there’s no native Chromecast support for sending the video to your TV, tab mirroring does work.)
Use your mobile devices: Download the March Madness Live app on iOS or Android, and you’ll get another three-hour preview to enjoy. Got an iPad or Android tablet? Install the March Madness app there to get yet another three-hour preview. (Sadly, Chromecast and AirPlay are both blocked with this method, so you can’t send the video to your TV.)
Cycle through streaming devices: The March Madness Live app is also available on every major streaming platform, including Roku, Fire TV, Android TV/Google TV, Apple TV, Xbox consoles, Samsung TVs, and LG TVs. Each of those comes with its own three-hour preview. If you have multiple streaming devices, you can use each one to extend your preview time even further.
Further trickery: On some devices, you might be able to uninstall and reinstall the March Madness app to get a fresh three-hour preview. This worked reliably for me on iOS and Apple TV. As a last resort, factory-resetting your streaming device can also reset the preview clock, though of course you’ll need to download and set up all your other apps again if you do this.
Cycling through free March Madness previews might not be feasible if you plan to be glued to every game, but it’s effective for mainly tuning into the major upsets and biggest games. In previous years, I’ve been able to get through the entire tournament without much effort.
Free trial tactics
If you’re bothered by the ticking clock of a three-hour preview, you might also consider stringing together some free trials or taking advantage of device deals to get through the tournament.
Through March 16, YouTube TV is offering a two-week free trial to new customers. You do need a Google account to sign up, but creating a new one is trivial if you’ve burned through a YouTube TV trial before. (Just be sure to cancel right after signing up, so you don’t get billed at the end.)
Sling TV, meanwhile, is offering a few different trial offers, all for new subscribers:
Get a two-week free trial when you use a Fire TV device. (The best one is the Fire TV Stick 4K Max.) You have to buy the device by March 19, but can redeem the offer anytime before April 19.
Get a free Chromecast with Google TV when you prepay for a month of service. A month of Sling TV Blue—which includes TBS, TNT, and TruTV—costs $35.
New subscribers can also just get a three-day Sling TV trial without buying a new device.
If you’ve already subscribed to Sling TV, creating a new email address is easier than you might think.
Finally, DirecTV Stream is offering five-day trials to new subscribers. Just be aware that canceling the service is needlessly difficult and requires talking to an online customer service representative.
My longtime maxim is that the easier cord-cutting is, the less money it saves. While the methods above are more of a hassle than paying for a big TV bundle—even for just a month—they can certainly save lets of money for those who just want to watch the games without the bloat.
To learn more about how to cut cable and save money on your TV bill, sign up for Jared’s Cord Cutter Weekly newsletter.