Friday, June 8, is one of those days that rolls around every two years on which productivity throughout much of the world is going to take a gigantic hit. That's because the Euro 2012 tournament gets under way, and it'll capture the attention of every serious soccer/football fan around the planet. And we do mean "planet" - this competition among 16 European nations is second in quality and importance only to the World Cup, and even non-European fans will be tracking it avidly. Many will be watching it online - and here's how.
Let's face it: You can't take the entire next month off to watch all these games. (If you can? We want your job.) So online viewing of some sort is going to be indispensable for seeing the action while somehow simultaneously fending off your boss and getting your work done. And not everyone will be able to rely on the most legal methods to pull it off. Whether you're patched into a legal network or looking for an illicit stream, it's not that hard to find the games you want online or on your mobile device.
ESPN3.com is your computer's portal to all of the Euro 2012 games, and you won't need to be at home and patched into your cable box to get it, either.If you're tapped into one of the broadcast networks in a major country that has the Euro 2012 rights, you should be in good shape for seeing these games on your computer, tablet or phone. In the United States, that means ESPN, which is the sole rights-holder for the tourney. And you couldn't be in better hands for getting online access, given ESPN's continuing push to become ubiquitous on every device you might own, short of an original Kindle.
If you're away from that, ESPN3 will simply ask you to log in with your cable provider account first; once you've done that, you should be good to watch. The navigation is easy enough: Links for all of these games are likely to be on the home page, but you can also click the "Soccer" drop-down tab and choose the appropriate tab (Live Now, Upcoming or Replay).
Your phone should be just as simple to use for watching the tournament, now that ESPN has gradually extended access to its WatchESPN app for iOS and Android, originally available only to Time Warner customers, to those on Verizon, BrightHouse and Comcast. Comcast users with Android devices haven't yet gotten the updated app for streaming, but Comcast iPhone users and everyone else can fire up WatchESPN and find a game in real time with relative ease. AT&T U-verse subscribers can access games by using their mobile U-verse app and choosing ESPN Mobile TV. For replays, using any of the methods to access ESPN3 (which is one of the WatchESPN channels) is your ticket to entire game rebroadcasts - and if you have an Xbox Gold subscription, you can do that on your TV, too.
The situations are fairly similar in other countries where rights holders have websites and apps available. In the United Kingdom, the BBC and ITV have split the broadcast rights, and each network will be streaming matches online and through phone apps. (ITV just upgraded its iOS app Wednesday to allow for live streaming on phones, just in time for Euro 2012.) Australians can see all of the matches via Setanta Sports's Setanta-i online stream, with SBS picking up selected games for free broadcast. English-speaking Canadians will have to pay to see the games on TSN.ca, but TSN Mobile TV is free for Bell Mobility or Virgin Mobile subscribers on iOS, Android and Blackberry; Francophones have options through RDS. Wikipedia's comprehensive list of international rights holders should help you figure out what your options are in other countries.
A Little Bit Sketchier
But let's say that you can't get to a legal source for the tournament; maybe you don't have the right package, or you're one of those people who's chosen to bag cable and go entirely wireless with your life. Can you see these games at all?
Answer: Of course you can. A host of websites tap illicitly into satellite streams of worldwide soccer matches, often with several different links to feeds, and bring them to your computer. Every hardcore soccer fan ends up dealing with these sooner or later; even if you're paying for a cable or satellite package that brings you Fox Soccer Channel and GolTV in the U.S., those channels don't carry every single game you'll ever want to see. How else were you going to watch New Caledonia clinch a stunning 2-0 upset of New Zealand in the Oceania region World Cup qualifiers?
So, people turn to one of the many streaming sites. Understand, though, that - pretty much as with any illegal music/movies download site or other below-the-lines website - you're entering a sketchy world that can include popup pages, overlay ads, NSFW images and, yes, even viruses or other malware. Go into this with your eyes open, and try to follow these rules:
- Have your antivirus software on at all times.
- Use a popup blocker; it'll improve the experience dramatically.
- Don't install any software; these sites mostly are running Flash video, so you don't need the iLivid Download Manager (a ubiquitous choice) or any of the other offerings with which you'll be confronted.
- Don't pay any money. These sites will be happy to grab your credit card number in exchange for "HD video" that may or may not exist. Don't go there; if you want an HD experience, you should be using one of the legal methods, anyway.
- If you get one of those helpful "Malware Detected!" warnings, close your window or tab immediately and try the next site.
- If things go really haywire, be ready to force-quit your browser (Force Quit under the Apple menu on a Mac after you Command-Tab out of the application; Ctrl-Alt-Delete on a PC to kill the process on a PC).
- Click carefully. You'll be getting ads overlaid on the embedded video, and accidentally clicking on one can have 40 tabs opened on your browser before you know what's hit you. Make sure you actually hit the X or Close tab.
- And when you actually make it to your game video, try to run as few applications or other browser pages as you can. Your stream is bouncing around the globe before it gets to you, so you want to smooth out the experience as much as possible.
That said, it's entirely possible to find a video stream of a Euro 2012 game without suffering any mishaps. A Google search of "streaming football online" will bring up a plethora of choices. (Yes, "football"; don't forget that your stream is coming from countries that couldn't care less about the NFL.) I tested a few of the top results, FreeFootball.org, First Row Sports and 12thPlayer.com, and was able to watch game video with fairly minimal effort or problems at all three sites. 12th Player has the advantage of a clean interface without ad or popup clutter, and although FreeFootball does have those issues, that site has always been reliable in the past. Take your pick.
One caveat: Don't expect a great experience trying this on your phone, if you can watch at all. The iPhone will yell at you about Flash video, and that's if you even make it to a video - popups were a huge problem in my tests of the iPhone. The iPad is also going to hit you with the Flash issue. Android phone and tablet users may have a slightly easier time of it, but for the most part, you're better off using these sites on a computer.
Unlike ESPN3, these sites aren't likely to offer you replays on games. But it's still possible to see those if you're willing to download torrented game captures. Open services such as The Pirate Bay or membership boards like Demonoid are good bets to have captured game videos, in formats ranging from AVI to full HD-quality .ts MPEG Transport Stream rips (playable with the cross-platform VLC video player). With the popularity of this tournament worldwide, finding well-seeded torrents shouldn't be too tough within a day of any given game. And Usenet users might have some luck with the alt.binaries.multimedia.sports group.
Lead image courtesy of Shutterstock.
Sportscenter image courtesy of ESPN.