As ESPN builds inventory for its soon-to-launch OTT platform ESPN+, it has turned its eyes toward the Ivy League.
The network announced Wednesday that it has agreed to a 10-year deal with the conference, giving it rights to every Ivy League football, men’s basketball and women’s basketball game. ESPN will air at least 24 games a year (including the Harvard-Yale football game and both the men’s and women’s basketball tournaments) on its linear network and the rest of the events on ESPN+, beginning with the 2018-19 season.
Previously, ESPN streamed about 85 Ivy League events per year on ESPN3, according to Sports Business Daily, with NBC networks airing the conference’s football games.
“We are significantly enhancing our existing relationship with The Ivy League,” ESPN executive Burke Magnus said in a release, “providing the conference, its institutions, and fans the most comprehensive coverage of the league to date across ESPN’s networks and platforms, while also adding specific benefits that are made possible with the launch of ESPN+.”
As John Ourand of SBD points out, this deal is structured similarly to ESPN’s agreement with the Sun Belt last month, which promised only a handful of games on linear television and dozens more on ESPN+. ESPN seems to be loading its new platform with small-conference events, apparently in hopes of enticing fans of mid-major teams to pony up for subscriptions.
Though some viewers will inevitably complain about being forced to sign up for ESPN+ in order to watch their favorite teams, this arrangement should actually benefit most Ivy League fans. In the past, conference games that did not air on linear TV were available through Ivy League Digital Network, which cost $119.95 for a year or $15.95 for a month. Given that an ESPN+ subscription will cost only $4.99 a month, fans can pay significantly less to access a similar slate of games. (Ivy League Digital Network will cease to exist, per SBD.)
ESPN+ will launch April 12. It will carry various live sporting events, plus a library of on-demand content including a full collection of 30 for 30 documentaries.