ESPN+ is an American over-the-top subscription video streaming service available in the United States, owned by Disney Media and Entertainment Distribution, in partnership with ESPN Inc., which is a joint venture between The Walt Disney Company (which owns a controlling 80% stake) and the Hearst Communications (which owns the remaining 20%). It is one of Disney's three flagship subscription streaming brands in the United States, alongside Disney+ and Hulu, and operates using technology of Disney subsidiary BAMTech, now known as Disney Streaming Services.[3]

ESPN+
ESPN+'s logo
FoundedApril 12, 2018; 4 years ago (2018-04-12)
Headquarters
United States
Area servedUnited States
OwnerThe Walt Disney Company (80%)
Hearst Communications (20%)[1]
Key peopleRussell Wolff (EVP, general manager)[2]
ParentDisney Media and Entertainment Distribution
URLplus.espn.com
UsersIncrease 22.8 million (as of July 2, 2022)
LaunchedApril 12, 2018; 4 years ago (2018-04-12)
Current statusActive

ESPN+ is marketed as an add-on to ESPN's core linear networks, with some of ESPN+'s content previously offered exclusively to cable subscribers via ESPN3 and the WatchESPN app. ESPN+ does not include access to these services, as they continue to only be available through television providers. Thus, some of ESPN's sports rights are not carried on ESPN+.[4][5]

Featured content on ESPN+ includes combat sports (including coverage of the Ultimate Fighting Championship and Top Rank boxing), college sports, hockey (including 75 exclusive National Hockey League games per-season and all out-of-market games), rugby union, soccer (including out-of-market Major League Soccer matches), golf (including PGA Tour Live and coverage of the PGA Championship), tennis, and cricket. Major League Baseball's out-of-market sports package, also operated through BAMTech, is sold through the platform as an add-on. The service also features archive content, ESPN original documentaries, and access to premium content on ESPN.com.

As of April 2, 2022, ESPN+ had over 22.3 million subscribers.[6]

HistoryEdit

In August 2016, The Walt Disney Company acquired a minority stake in BAMTech, a spin-out of MLB Advanced Media's streaming technology business, for $1 billion, with an option to acquire a majority stake in the future. It was also announced that Disney subsidiary ESPN was planning to develop an over-the-top service based on BAMTech technology as "an exploratory OTT project", drawing primarily from ESPN-owned rights for events not broadcast on television. ESPN already used BAMTech's platform for its TV Everywhere service WatchESPN. Disney CEO Bob Iger remarked that despite declines in the pay television industry due to cord-cutting, "live sports has really thrived, even in a world where there's so much more for people to do and to watch."[7][8]

In August 2017, Disney invoked its option to acquire a controlling stake in BAMTech, and announced that it planned to launch its ESPN OTT service in 2018, followed by a Disney entertainment OTT service in 2019 (thus ending its relationship with Netflix). At this time, Disney stated that the new ESPN service would draw from ESPN-owned sports rights, as well as MLB, NHL, and Major League Soccer content (although lacking major ESPN-owned rights such as the NBA and NFL), and that an accompanying redesign of the ESPN app would make it a "premier digital destination" for sports content.[9] During Disney's fourth-quarter earnings call, Iger revealed that the service would be known as ESPN+.[10] In December 2017, Disney announced its intent to acquire 21st Century Fox after the spin-off of certain businesses. The deal was to include the Fox Sports Networks group of regional sports networks (which Disney was ordered to divest under antitrust grounds),[11] which led to suggestions that Disney wanted to incorporate FSN's regional sports rights into the service.[12]

In February 2018, Iger stated that ESPN was aiming for a monthly price of $4.99.[4][13] ESPN+ and BAMTech were placed into the newly formed Disney business segment, Disney Direct-to-Consumer and International, on March 14, 2018.[14] On April 2, 2018, ESPN announced that ESPN+ would officially launch on April 12, 2018, and confirmed its $4.99 per-month pricing.[5]

On August 21, 2018, ESPN.com's existing subscription service ESPN Insider was discontinued and folded into ESPN+, adding its premium web content (such as exclusive beat reports, and advanced sports statistics, analytics, and fantasy sports tools) to the service. Both services shared the same monthly price, but ESPN Insider subscribers continued to receive the complimentary subscription to ESPN The Magazine that was included (until its discontinuation in September 2019),[15] and annual subscribers were grandfathered under its previous $39.99 per-year price (as opposed to $49.99 for ESPN+).[16]

On October 31, 2018, ESPN executive Russell Wolff was named executive vice president and general manager.[2] In October 2019, ESPN+ began to add pre-roll advertising to on-demand content on the service.[17] Concurrent with the launch of Disney+ on November 12, 2019, the Disney Bundle was introduced, allowing users to subscribe to ESPN+, Disney+, and the ad-supported tier of Hulu for $12.99 per-month.[3]

On October 22, 2020, it was announced that a larger amount of ESPN.com articles (primarily analysis) would become paywalled behind ESPN+. It was also announced that video simulcasts of the ESPN Radio programs The Dan Le Batard Show, Greeny, The Max Kellerman Show, and Chiney & Golic Jr., as well as Jorge Ramos y Su Banda, would be moved exclusively to ESPN+ from the ESPN networks.[18]

In July 2022, Disney announced that the standalone monthly price of ESPN+, which reached $6.99 per month in 2021 following two smaller increases, would jump by three dollars, or 43%, to $9.99 per month beginning in late August. Observers speculated that the increase was intended to promote uptake of the Disney Bundle, which continued at the then current $13.99 price point, while remaining competitive relative to other standalone sports streaming services.[19][20]

ProgrammingEdit

Its launch content included boxing (including Top Rank events and archive content through 2025, and includes 36 exclusive fight cards),[21] college sports events (including Ivy League events, with the conference having reached a 10-year media rights deal with ESPN prior to the service's launch),[22] coverage of Tennis Grand Slams, as well as international cricket (India national cricket team, Cricket Ireland, and New Zealand Cricket), soccer (including Major League Soccer, the United Soccer League, the U.S. Open Cup,[23] 2019 Copa America,[24] the English Football League (including Cup), Serie A,[25] Eredivisie, A-League, FFA Cup, W-League, FA Cup, and UEFA Nations League)[26] and rugby union events (including SANZAAR tournaments, Bledisloe Cup, Currie Cup, Major League Rugby, Mitre 10 Cup, and Pro14).[27] In October 2018, ESPN+ obtained the rights for the Swedish Allsvenskan and the Danish Superliga as well, declaring their intent to broadcast one match per week for each league.[28] In February 2021, ESPN+ obtained the rights for the Belgian Pro League, and are expected to broadcast 3 matches per week.[29]

ESPN+ features out of market Major League Soccer matches at no additional charge for subscribers (replacing the previous MLS Live service),[30][31] and the service held exclusive rights to all regionally televised Chicago Fire matches through 2020 (as the second MLS team, behind Los Angeles FC's deal with YouTube TV, to sell its regional rights to a streaming service).[32][33] As of the 2021–22 season, ESPN+ carries out-of-market National Hockey League games in a similar manner (replacing the previous NHL.tv service).[34][35] MLB.tv is also available for purchase within the ESPN+ platform, and offers daily games during their regular seasons.[5]

PGA Tour Live (which was also ran by BAMTech) was included for the 2018 PGA Tour season, but moved to NBC Sports Gold in 2019.[36] ESPN+ will offer supplemental feeds during the PGA Championship beginning 2020, including during CBS broadcast windows.[37] In 2022, PGA Tour Live returned to ESPN+ as part of a new long-term deal through 2030.[38]

In March 2019, the American Athletic Conference announced a 12-year media rights deal with ESPN, under which ESPN+ will carry the majority of events not aired by ESPN's linear channels.[39][40][41] In May 2019, it was announced that ESPN+ would carry 18 World TeamTennis matches.[42] In September 2019, ESPN+ announced its acquisition of rights to Germany's Bundesliga soccer league beginning in 2020, under a six-year deal.[43]

In the 2019–20 season, ESPN+ acquired the third-tier media rights for all but two Big 12 Conference teams; these telecasts are carried under the branding Big 12 Now. The deal excluded the Oklahoma Sooners–whose third-tier rights were held by the SoonerSports.tv streaming service and Bally Sports Oklahoma, and the Texas Longhorns–who have an existing agreement with ESPN and IMG College to run Longhorn Network.[44][45]

During the 2020 Major League Baseball season's Wild Card Series round, ESPN+ aired Squeeze Play—which featured live look-ins and analysis of the seven series ESPN held rights to (in a similar manner to the ESPN Bases Loaded service it offered during the NCAA baseball tournament), as well as Statcast broadcasts of selected games.[46][47]

On March 10, 2021, ESPN re-acquired rights to the National Hockey League under a new seven-year deal beginning in the 2021–22 season. Under this contract, ESPN+ holds exclusive rights to 75 games per-season, which will also be available on Hulu, simulcast rights to all games on ABC (including the NHL All-Star Game, and the Stanley Cup Finals in selected seasons), and streams all out-of-market games.[34][35]

A week later, as part of ESPN's renewal of its rights to the NFL, ESPN+ gained simulcast rights to Monday Night Football broadcasts beginning in the 2021 NFL season. Beginning in 2022, ESPN+ will hold exclusive rights to one NFL International Series game per-season in a Sunday morning window.[48][49]

In September 2021, Disney began to wind down the U.S. version of Hotstar, a streaming service targeting Indian Americans, and migrated its content exclusively to ESPN+ and Hulu. This, in particular, includes its rights to home matches of the India national cricket team and Indian Premier League, which had been sub-licensed to ESPN+ via its sister network Star Sports.[50]

On April 8, 2022, ESPN announced a deal with the Savannah Bananas to live stream two games of their Banana Ball World Tour on April 8 and 9.[51]

In May 2022, ESPN announced its acquisition of the third-tier media rights to Oklahoma Sooners athletics; the events will be carried on ESPN+ under the "SoonerVision on ESPN+" branding, and will include one exclusive football game per-season (which had previously been distributed by Bally Sports/Fox Sports PPV). The deal will be in effect through the 2024–25 athletics season, after which the Sooners will exit the Big 12 and move to the Southeastern Conference (SEC)—whose media rights are fully-owned by ESPN.[52][53] Later that month, ESPN announced a rights agreement with the Northwoods League to stream select games of their 2022 season each day exclusively on ESPN+, along with the Northwoods League All-Star Game, the Major League Dreams Showcase, the League playoffs and Summer Collegiate World Series.[54][55]

UFCEdit

In May 2018, the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) announced new five-year digital and linear television rights deals with ESPN, effective January 2019. 20 UFC on ESPN+ Fight Night cards per-year are streamed exclusively by the service, as well as preliminaries for 10 UFC on ESPN Fight Night cards per-year. ESPN+ will also hold rights to supplemental content such as Dana White's Contender Series, archive content and PPV encores, and offer sales of UFC Fight Pass within the platform.[56][57][58] The first ESPN+ event, UFC Fight Night: Cejudo vs. Dillashaw, generated 525,000 new subscribers on the day of the event alone.[59]

On March 18, 2019, it was announced that ESPN had reached a two-year extension of its contract with the UFC. Beginning with UFC 236, ESPN+ became the exclusive U.S. distributor of all UFC pay-per-view events for residential customers; they are no longer sold through television providers, and viewers must have an ESPN+ subscription in order to buy them.[60]

Sports rightsEdit

ESPN+ initially focused on overflow content, similar to that of ESPN3 (which is distributed to subscribers of participating internet and television subscribers). Some of ESPN3's content has since moved to ESPN+.[61] It has since been incorporated more extensively into ESPN's later media rights deals.

Professional sportsEdit

CricketEdit

Association footballEdit

United States

Mexico

Europe

Spain

England

Germany

Netherlands

Sweden

Belgium

Auto racingEdit

BaseballEdit

FootballEdit

Combat sportsEdit

  • Ultimate Fighting Championship
    • All UFC pay-per-view events (requires additional purchase)
    • 20 exclusive ESPN+ Fight Night cards per-year
    • Preliminaries for 10 ESPN Fight Night cards per-year
    • Archive and supplemental content
  • Top Rank boxing (through 2025)[21]
    • 12 exclusive primetime cards per-year
    • 24 exclusive international cards per-year
    • Preliminaries for 18 Top Rank Boxing on ESPN cards per-year
    • Archive and supplemental content
  • Professional Fighters League

EsportsEdit

GolfEdit

  • Masters Tournament
    • Masters Live supplemental feeds
    • Masters Tournament official films library on-demand
  • PGA Championship
    • Supplemental feeds.
    • PGA Championship official films library on-demand
  • PGA Tour
    • PGA Tour Live supplemental coverage.

Ice hockeyEdit

LacrosseEdit

TennisEdit

College sportsEdit

American footballEdit

BasketballEdit

BaseballEdit

Original programmingEdit

ESPN+ also carries ESPN original programming and documentaries, such as the 30 for 30 franchise (with some premiering on ESPN+ prior to their premiere on ESPN), and exclusive original series and studio programs:[4][5]

Other programmingEdit

See alsoEdit

ReferencesEdit

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External linksEdit