When you go to an ESPN game schedule, you’re presented with network assignments for many games, but unless the game is currently airing on an ESPN platform, it’s up to you to navigate to the streaming platform to watch it.
That may be changing in the future.
Per a report from CNBC, ESPN is considering linking to the streaming services of its competition so that fans can watch live games easier.
The sports network has held conversations with major sports leagues and media partners about launching a feature on ESPN.com and its free ESPN app that will link users directly to where a live sporting event is streaming, according to people familiar with the matter.
While the business terms of the concept could still change, ESPN has considered a model in which it would take a cut of subscription revenue from a user who signed up for a streaming service through the ESPN app or website, two of the people said. If a customer already subscribes to a given service, ESPN would collect no money and just provide the link as a courtesy, people familiar with the matter said.
The CNBC report states that ESPN wants to become the “de facto first stop” for all fans wanting to watch live games.
ESPN wants to use its self-proclaimed status as “the worldwide leader in sports” to become the de facto first stop for all consumers looking where to watch live sports, the people said. Currently, ESPN only links users to ESPN-licensed content. That amounts to almost 30% of all televised or streamed U.S. sports, according to people familiar with the matter.
For games airing on cable networks like CBSSN, FS1, TBS, TNT, and USA, there’s no money to be gained for ESPN – those networks aren’t available through DTC services like HBO Max, Paramount+, or Peacock. If the link would take me to the network’s site or app to stream with an authenticated login, all it’s doing is saving me a couple seconds from just going to Hulu or YouTube TV and watching the game through there. If the link is for a game airing on an RSN, you’re out of market, and the link directs you to a DTC service like Bally Sports+, it’s useless, and you’d need to utilize a streaming service like MLB.TV or NBA League Pass to watch.
Really, the most utilization this would have for fans is for games airing on broadcast networks (whose live games are available on DTC services in the cases of CBS and NBC) and those that are streaming-exclusive (Apple TV, Peacock, Prime Video, etc).
Ultimately, this would be fine and marginally helpful, but wouldn’t qualify as some sort of seismic, game-changing shift to me. ESPN has linked to ticket sales sites on their schedule pages for years, and I don’t think I’ve ever even clicked through one, let alone bought any tickets. It will take a lot more than this to change fans’ muscle memory into going to the ESPN website or app every time they wanted to watch a live game, even if that game wasn’t airing on an ESPN network.