On April 12th, Disney is finally launching ESPN+, a $4.99-a-month streaming service that is widely seen as Disney’s first toe being dipped into the growing pool of direct-to-consumer video streaming services. But unlike what you might think from a service called “ESPN+” you don’t get access to the main ESPN cable channel, or in fact any cable channel at all.
Instead, what you get is the right to stream, through the ESPN app, an inconsistent piecemeal mix of some games from a bunch of different sports, subject to regional blackouts. It’s a great solution if you want to have “some sports” playing in the background 24/7, but it’s not even close to being a replacement for cable, satellite, or your crazy neighbor shouting the score from their balcony.
Almost every sport you can think of is represented in some way or another. There’s live games from the MLB, NHL, MLS, boxing, PGA Golf, pro tennis, college softball, rugby, cricket, and every single college sporting event that you’ve struggled to find on regional TV before.
That doesn’t sound too bad, until you read the description of precisely what games you get. Take the NHL, for example: subscribers get access to one game a day during the regular season, a total of 180 games. Regional blackouts apply, which means you won’t be able to watch your local team. So, what you do get to watch is one random hockey game a day, not from an area you care about, and no playoff hockey.
Anyone serious enough about hockey to be interested in watching two random non-local teams, not of their choosing, play regular-season hockey is likely just going to subscribe to NHL.tv instead, where they get access to all out-of-market games and they get to choose which one they want to watch. It’s the same story for MLB: Subscribers get one game per day throughout the regular season, with regional blackouts applying.
The college and minor sports make a little more sense, but even then, ESPN+’s coverage is decidedly non-comprehensive. Subscribers get to watch Wimbledon, the US Open, and the Australian Open, but no other pro tennis tournaments are included. Rugby fans get the southern hemisphere games, but nothing from Europe or internationals.
In almost all cases, fans passionate about one particular sport have equally-priced and more comprehensive ways of following that sport where they’re guaranteed to get every game, not some kind of odd sporting lottery that pretends getting “a” hockey game is the same as getting “the” hockey game. As a cheap add-on to a cable subscription for someone who generally likes watching lots of sports it might make sense, but that’s a particularly niche market ESPN is targeting there.
A new ESPN streaming service is invariably going to get a lot of attention, because live sports is one of the big things that keeps people tied into cable, and ESPN has famously refused to unbundle its coverage from expensive cable packages or streaming services. But this is not a cord-cutter’s dream or a way to get around paying for cable sports: it’s an (admittedly cheap) top-up service that will sometimes have a game you want if none of the cable channels can be bothered to show it.
The full details of what sports ESPN+ gets you access to are below:
- MLB – MORE THAN 180 GAMES; A GAME PER DAY THROUGHOUT SEASON: ESPN+ will feature an ESPN+ MLB game each day, seven days per week, throughout the MLB regular season – more than 180 games that will include every MLB team.*
- NHL – MORE THAN 180 GAMES; GAME OF THE DAY THROUGHOUT REGULAR SEASON: Beginning with the 2018-19 NHL season, subscribers to ESPN+ will get a daily NHL game throughout the NHL regular season (in keeping with the NHL schedule) – more than 180 hockey games.*
- BOXING – YEAR-ROUND SCHEDULE, INCLUDES EXCLUSIVE KHAN VS. LO GRECOBOUT: ESPN+ is a key part of ESPN’s multi-platform Top Rank Boxing on ESPN boxing agreement and will feature high-quality boxing throughout the year, including a selection of exclusive main event fights beginning with the April 21 Amir Khan vs. Phil Lo Greco bout in Liverpool, England. In addition, ESPN+ will feature undercard fights throughout the year from Top Rank on ESPN events, re-airs of all Top Rank on ESPNand PPV events and an unmatched library of legendary fights from the Top Rank and ESPN Big Fights archives.
- MLS – MORE THAN 250 GAMES: At launch, ESPN+ will include exclusive access for subscribers to the entire MLS Live out-of-market schedule, featuring more than 250 games,* through their subscription. Before launch, fans can access free MLS out-of-market games streaming live on live on MLSsoccer.com and the MLS App. Additionally, ESPN+ will be the exclusive local-market home for the Chicago Fire, bringing 27 Fire matches to fans in Chicago.
- COLLEGE SPORTS – THOUSANDS OF GAMES AND EVENTS, MULTIPLE SPORTS, ACROSS NEARLY TWO DOZEN CONFERENCES: The ESPN+ lineup will be rich with thousands of live college sports events, including football, basketball, baseball, softball, soccer, track & field, gymnastics, swimming & diving, lacrosse, wrestling, volleyball, golf and more — from over a dozen conferences across the country including the America East, ASun, Big South, Big West, Horizon, Ivy League, MAAC, MAC, MEAC, Missouri Valley, NEC, Southern Conference, Southland, Summit League, Sun Belt, WAC and many more.
- SPRING SPORTS
- COLLEGE BASEBALL & SOFTBALL: ESPN+ will help college baseball and softball fans see more games than ever before, with hundreds more games from across the college ranks streamed live, exclusively on ESPN+.
- LACROSSE, TENNIS AND TRACK & FIELD: ESPN+ will carry dozens of events from across conferences this spring.
- FALL SPORTS
- COLLEGE FOOTBALL: ESPN+ will include hundreds of college football games each season from across more than a dozen conferences in the FBS and FCS.
- MEN’S AND WOMEN’S SOCCER, VOLLEYBALL, FIELD HOCKEY: ESPN+ will have hundreds of games this fall from soccer, volleyball and field hockey as the 2018-19 academic year gets underway.
- WINTER SPORTS
- COLLEGE BASKETBALL: College hoops fans will get hundreds of men’s and women’s games every season on ESPN+ from all across the college basketball landscape – from division one powerhouses to top mid-majors to the next tournament Cinderella and more.
- COLLEGE WRESTLING, SWIMMING & DIVING, GYMNASTICS AND ICE HOCKEY: Fans of winter Olympic sports will get hundreds of games from a variety of conference partners nationwide exclusively on ESPN+.
- SPRING SPORTS
- PGA TOUR LIVE GOLF – MORE THAN 100 DAYS OF COVERAGE FROM 31 PGA TOUR EVENTS: Golf fans will be able to follow the PGA TOUR throughout the year, with more than 100 days of live coverage from 31 PGA TOUR events, including THE PLAYERS Championship, the FedEx Cup Playoffs, AT&T Byron Nelson, AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, Travelers Championship, Arnold Palmer Invitational and dozens more. Coverage will include Thursday, Friday and some Saturday and Sunday play during the events.
- GRAND SLAM TENNIS – HUNDREDS OF TENNIS MATCHES FROM WIMBLEDON, US OPEN & AUSTRALIAN OPEN: Tennis fans will have access to more of the action than ever at three of the annual Grand Slam tennis events. With hundreds of men’s and women’s singles and doubles matches, ESPN+ will be the perfect complement for every passionate tennis fan.
- RUGBY & CRICKET – HUNDREDS OF MATCHES FROM INTERNATIONAL RUGBY AND CRICKET: ESPN+ will serve rugby and cricket fans in the U.S. with more of their beloved sports, throughout the year. Rugby fans will get matches from SANZAAR (including Super Rugby, The Rugby Championship, the Lions Series, Mitre10 Cup, Currie Cup, Bledisloe Cup and other international matches), the HSBC World Rugby Sevens series, and 18 regular-season matches in the inaugural season of Major League Rugby, the new American professional rugby union league. Meanwhile, passionate cricket fans across the U.S. will get matches across Test, ODI and T20 formats from New Zealand Cricket and Cricket Ireland.