The end of 2021 will be the end of a cable sports era, as Disney will reportedly shut down ESPN Classic on January 1st, 2022.

The network has been on the air (figuratively) since 1995, when it was launched as the Classic Sports Network. ESPN acquired it in 1997 and rebranded it ESPN Classic. In many ways it was an idea ahead of its time; sports are in many ways inherently nostalgic, and people spend hours on YouTube watching old games or events. But now that clips are more accessible online, the need for an entire network devoted to it was diminished, as evidenced by ESPN pulling it back in recent years in favor of giving some of their newer ventures that valuable linear distribution space.

John Ourand broke the news at Sports Business Journal:

Disney has started telling cable and satellite distributors that it plans to shut down ESPN Classic on Jan. 1, 2022. Its ESPN Classic 2.0 online service also will go dark. ESPN Classic joins NBCSN as the second all-sports TV channel that will go dark at the end of the year.

ESPN has been deemphasizing ESPN Classic for much of the past decade, allowing distributors to drop or put the channel on a tier to make room for college channels like SEC Network, ACC Network and Longhorn Network.

Brian Bedol, who along with Steve Greenberg founded Classic Sports Network, weighed in:

At a certain point this was inevitable, of course. NBC is shutting down NBCSN too, and that network has exponentially more reach and distribution at this point than ESPN Classic does. And whatever classic rights ESPN has are probably just as valuable or even more valuable as part of a streaming library at this point.

But there’s a small something lost that way, when you can choose to see anything you want on demand vs. stumbling into something you never would have otherwise watched out of boredom or curiosity or both. I’m personally in the kind of weird age range now where I’m nostalgic for the heyday of ESPN Classic, which allowed me to see full games/matches/races/etc. from before I was born or from when I was too young to remember. A 12 y/o kid in 1999 with cable only had so many sports options, after all, and I’m glad I could spend that time watching actual moments from sports history as opposed to toxic debate shows. (I’ll take an old IROC race over First Take right now, to be honest.)

Which I suppose means I’m nostalgic for something that was in itself borne out of nostalgia, lamenting the end of an era for a product built to look backwards.

[Sports Business Journal]

About Jay Rigdon

Jay is a writer and editor for The Comeback, and a contributor at Awful Announcing. He is not a strong swimmer.