Since the launch of ESPN+, we’ve seen some content make the move from traditional cable to streaming. Some of that content includes ESPN FC and the video component of various radio shows. We’ve also seen a bunch of original programming debut exclusively on ESPN+, joining the service’s catalog of live games and evergreen content (like the full 30 for 30 library).
But if you think ESPN doesn’t want to move more content to ESPN+, think again.
In this article from the Financial Times about Disney’s streaming strategy, there’s an interesting note about the future of ESPN+ and the plans that Bob Iger and Kevin Mayer had for it.
Last year, Mr Iger and Mr Mayer discussed moving some of ESPN’s popular sports programming to its streaming service as early as 2022, after the expiry of licensing contracts requiring games to be broadcast on ESPN’s cable channel, according to people familiar with the talks.
We’ve already started to see this with new carriage deals that ESPN has inked with college conferences, guaranteeing that a whole bunch of games would air exclusively on ESPN+. One recent deal involves the Atlantic 10, with nearly 400 men’s and women’s basketball games on ESPN+ and under 30 on ESPN’s cable networks. The AAC’s new deal with ESPN, signed in March of 2019, also shifted a huge chunk of games to streaming. We perhaps saw the blueprint for future deals with ESPN’s deal with the UFC, first reported in May of 2018, which included a whole host of fight cards on ESPN+, along with some on ESPN proper.
What leagues could follow in those footsteps? MLB seems like an obvious one: ESPN’s deal expires at the end of the 2021 season, hasn’t been renewed yet, and the network reportedly wants to move away from its Monday and Wednesday packages. I could easily see them bailing on those packages and perhaps looking to add a whiparound-style show in the style of MLB Tonight, Fox’s MLB Whiparound, or the old school Baseball Tonight for ESPN+.
The NFL is another possibility, with ESPN’s deal also ending after the 2021 season. The network clearly isn’t going to be shifting all of its NFL content to streaming, but I could definitely see more studio content living on ESPN+, much like NFL Primetime does these days. As for the NBA, I think more of their content on ESPN+ is a given in the near future, perhaps in a “game of the night” style like we’ve seen with the NHL and MLB since ESPN+’s launch. The NHL’s upcoming rights deal also opens the door for even more hockey content on ESPN+ if the league ends up returning to the company in one form or another.
With all that being said, I think the one thing we *won’t* be seeing in the near future is some sort of a la carte ESPN live TV streaming package (outside of the various streaming services). One executive in that Financial Times article claims that ESPN would need to charge between $40 and $45 for a cable-inclusive streaming package (which is madness, given that Hulu Live and YouTube TV cost $65 and you get more than just ESPN) to even equal its cable profits. That price point seems like an absolute non-starter for any potential subscribers.