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How to watch D.C. United games in 2020, explained

It is more complicated than you think

MLS: Seattle Sounders FC at D.C. United Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

D.C. United’s first locally-broadcast game of their new pact with Sinclair Broadcasting is tomorrow, and unlike in years past, there are a myriad of different ways that you might be able to watch the games. This year, there will be no fewer than three different ways to tune in, with potentially overlapping broadcast areas and different playback and archive options depending on where you are.

If you think it sounds confusing, that’s because it is.

The easiest way to watch D.C. United’s games is if you subscribe to a cable package that includes WJLA 24/7. If you do, you can watch United’s games on WJLA 24/7, in the same way that D.C. United fans have done every year (save one) since 1996, just on a different channel.

If you don’t have WJLA 24/7, or don’t want to watch the games on it, your options become increasingly more confusing.

Your next least confusing option would be to live well outside the DC area, subscribe to ESPN+, and watch your games on that service. If that sounds like you, then you can watch games just like you have been able to since the days of MLS Live.

If you are not in either of these situations, then you are in the murky middle.

D.C. United provided us with the Sinclair blackout region, which is the area in which games that are locally broadcast on WJLA 24/7 are not available on ESPN+. It is basically the same blackout region that they imposed two years ago, when they last had United’s broadcasting contract.

The areas in this map, in theory, are the areas that will not be able to watch D.C. United games on ESPN+. It is primarily based on a list of zip codes which were provided to us by D.C. United and expanded on the assumption by your author that the blackout area will be contiguous.

The team site’s streaming FAQ says that the stream on United’s website will be available to anyone inside of the Washington designated market area (DMA), which is roughly contiguous with the blackout map above. For fans inside the media market, the stream will be freely available; anyone outside of the DC media market will have to subscribe to ESPN+ to be able to watch the games. We know that the edges of this map are fungible (especially near Laurel, MD), so if you are able to watch games within these regions or are not able to watch games outside of these regions, please let me know. This map will be a living document throughout the season.

The FAQ also confirms that D.C. United’s pregame programming will be a full half-hour before the game, and will also include a post-game show. Both, as well as the broadcast, will feature Dave Johnson, Devon McTavish, and Claudia Pagan, as previously reported.

The Philadelphia Union seem set to use the same streaming platform, and the Philadelphia Inquirer has more details of their plans for it. According to them, there is one key difference in being able to watch the stream on the team’s website rather than watching through ESPN+.

Based on the reporting from the Inquirer, games will not be available for replay on the team’s website; that functionality is only available through ESPN+. In previous years the blackout was lifted within approximately 48 hours, but the Inquirer was not able to confirm this either.

As the games happen, we’ll figure this all out together.