The long-awaited ESPN+ over-the-top service will finally launch on April 12.
Announced last year, this will not be a carbon copy of WatchESPN. Instead, ESPN+ will offer content including MLB, NHL, MLS, college sports, boxing, golf, tennis and other events. The monthly cost will be $4.99, and it will be viewable on ESPN.com and within an entirely new ESPN app, presumably available across mobile and other streaming devices.
However, it still doesn’t get you ESPN, ESPN2, ESPNU, etc. For that, you’ll still need to subscribe through a different TV provider. (If you do that, though, you’ll be able to authenticate and watch the traditional networks within the app.) Through the new ESPN app, subscribers can purchase the MLB.TV, NHL.TV and MLS Direct Kick packages to add to their experience, similar to how Channels work within Amazon Prime.
Think of the app as the hub, with ESPN+ available for the monthly rate, and the other packages all options as well. In theory, the ESPN app then becomes one-stop shopping for your sports streaming. This makes sense from a synergy standpoint, as the streaming company that provides the MLB, NHL, and MLS packages is BAMTech, in which ESPN’s parent company Disney owns a 75% stake.
Outside of the subscription offers, the new ESPN app will include sports news, highlights and scores, the aforementioned linear ESPN TV networks to authenticated subscribers, and ESPN Audio.
If you’re wondering what you get for your $4.99 monthly cost, here’s how it breaks down:
MLB — One free game per day (local blackouts apply) and the MLB.TV package, which can be purchased within the app.
NHL — One free game per day (again local blackouts apply) with the NHL.TV package available for purchase.
MLS — Subscribers get the entire MLS out-of-market package which will total some 250 games. This might actually represent the biggest early draw to the service. ESPN+ also holds the in-market rights for the Chicago Fire.
Boxing — Thanks to its agreement with Top Rank Boxing, subscribers will have access to various bouts including the Amir Khan vs. Phil Lo Greco card which will be streamed exclusively on ESPN+.
College Sports — ESPN+ will offer baseball, basketball, football, gymnastics, field hockey, ice hockey, lacrosse, soccer, softball, swimming volleyball, wrestling and more.
Other sports to be offered include the PGA Tour Live package, which will stream coverage of early-round action from tournaments throughout the year, tennis, rugby and cricket.
Not having the linear ESPN networks included in that $4.99 could be a turnoff for some, especially if they’re already paying a cable bill. It makes sense, though; so much of ESPN’s revenue is predicated upon their distribution deals with TV companies that offering the product a la carte would likely mean a much higher price point. Disney is hoping to reach customers who may have never subscribed to pay TV with this offering.
However, for diehards who want their out-of-market baseball, hockey, MLS and other events, this might be right up their alley. Whether it works all depends on the demand. Disney is putting a lot of content on the ESPN+, but we’ll see if it attracts consumers.