Over the last year or so, a whole bunch of new subscription services have launched or expanded. Four have gotten most attention: ESPN+ B/R Live, DAZN, and The Athletic. Today, we asked our staff which of these subscription services (The Athletic, DAZN, B/R Live, or ESPN+) has the best chance of long-term success, and why. The Athletic has the names, DAZN has the big money contracts, B/R Live has the most flexible model, and ESPN+ has the most content, and all have both positives and negatives going for them.
What's your choice?
— Awful Announcing (@awfulannouncing) March 27, 2019
Andrew Bucholtz: To me, ESPN+ is in the best position for long-term success. Live games are near the top of the list of what people are willing to pay for, and ESPN+ has a strong variety of content there, from college sports (now including the new deal with the American Athletic Conference, plus a number of smaller conferences) through the UFC, boxing, tennis, Serie A, the FA Cup and other soccer, and the CFL. Not every subscriber is going to care about all of that, but there’s enough in there with passionate fanbases that will sign up to see their events. Shoulder programming isn’t as important for picking up subscribers, but it can help with retention, and ESPN+ also has some good and unique offerings there, from the 30 for 30 library (with some new installments appearing there first) to the Detail series to Always Late With Katie Nolan to sport-specific offerings like Ariel And The Bad Guy, In The Crease, and ESPN FC.
Beyond that, ESPN+ has massive corporate backing, as this is part of Disney’s larger streaming strategy, and eventual bundles with Disney+ will help too; it also seems likely that it will pick up even more live content down the road, as ESPN is making ESPN+ a priority in many of its latest rights deals. There are still some questions with ESPN+, as the numbers so far seem more good than dominant (and that’s at a $4.99-a-month price that will likely eventually have to rise for this to stand on its own), but right now, it looks to have a more secure future than those other streaming services.
Phillip Bupp: ESPN+ has the best chance of long-term success because they have something the other three do not have. While I love The Athletic and feel they have the best chance of long-term success within written media, it’s still written media. And the words “written media” and “long-term” aren’t exactly synonymous these days.
DAZN and B/R Live do not have nearly as much content as ESPN+ and are more expensive per month, though B/R Live does offer a more flexible pricing structure that’s cheaper if you only want certain events. That being said, B/R Live has had its share of technical difficulties and outages since its launch, including during their highly anticipated Tiger vs. Phil broadcast, which they had to eventually give away for free and provide refunds to buyers. ESPN+ is not only cheaper on a month to month basis, but the service seems to be very reliable. ESPN+ also has Disney backing them, and with the launch of Disney+, the company is doubling down on streaming. B/R Live might have WarnerMedia as a parent company, but when it comes to sports, ESPN is the big dog and they have a hand in almost every sport, giving them the upper hand on rights acquisitions. By the process of elimination, ESPN+ has to have the best chance of long-term success.
Matt Clapp: I’ll say The Athletic, for a few reasons.
For one, cost- if you don’t see a 40-50% off promo code for The Athletic frequently, you’re probably not on the internet much. Use such a code and on an annual package you’re not paying more than $2-3 a month.
Additionally, the content and name power. People will pay for good content. The Athletic has big names for every sport in seemingly every city/region now, and in-depth content. They continue to only *add* here, not subtract.
And building off that point, we already know what we’re getting with The Athletic. There’s certainty that it’s a good service immediately, and there’s no reason to expect that to change too much over the next year and beyond. The other subscription services have promising trends and additions (like B/R Live with The Dan Patrick Show), but just as many question marks, and people want certainty before they commit monthly/annually to a product.
Ken Fang: I think ESPN+ has the best potential for long-term success. And while the numbers are not bringing in profits in the short-term, ESPN and its parent company Disney are in this for the duration. Reports show that Disney will lose $200 million on developing its streaming services in the second quarter of this fiscal year alone.
However, ESPN is loading content on ESPN+, most recently exclusively adding the UFC PPVs, and it will keep pushing college football and basketball games to the service in order to entice fans.
If its able to lure the English Premier League away from NBC when that rights deal ends in three more seasons, expect games to appear on ESPN+, which could be a huge feather in its cap.
With a $4.99/month price tag (for now, at least), the cost is affordable when you compare it DAZN and B/R Live. ESPN is not going to dump the plus service like it did with its cell phone and 3D projects. Disney will continue to invest and that is not only good for ESPN+, but also its subscribers.
Ben Koo: I’ve got to go with ESPN+, and over the last two weeks, we’ve seen why.
ESPN has existing rights deals with pretty much everyone (sorry NHL and Big East basketball!). They can just follow the template for what they did with the AAC and the UFC, extend existing rights deals and peeling back some games to put on ESPN+. The fact that ESPN’s president isn’t even running point on this and the majority of the deals are being orchestrated in Burbank by Disney is another sign that there isn’t a bigger priority for ESPN, and perhaps Disney, who is looking to piggyback off the early success of ESPN+ with Disney+.
Clarification: ESPN’s new budding relationship with the UFC was brokered by Kevin Mayer in Burbank under Disney’s DTIC, most existing relationships and extensions will continue to be managed by ESPN in Bristol.
ESPN is just going to beg, borrow, and deal to win here. I think you’re not only going to see them active in live rights acquisitions, but perhaps acquisitions of other streaming entities who may hit a ceiling and have investors who want liquidity. That’s probably a little ways down the road, but it’s clear ESPN wants scale and seems perfectly fine losing money to ensure they are the biggest sports streaming company out there, knowing that a likely windfall is down the road
Joe Lucia: I hate to keep beating the same drum as others, but ESPN+ checks most of the boxes for me. The $4.99 price point (again, for now) is affordable enough to keep attracting new subscribers. Not all of the ESPN+ content interests me personally, but there’s enough live content that I *am* interested in that I won’t just be able to cancel it on a whim. Plus, I think there’s the eventual possibility of linear ESPN content eventually being integrated into the app for a larger fee, which would allow ESPN to corner the sports streaming market in a way that none of its competitors have yet.
Add in the possibility of integrating more streaming services (like ESPN+ already had with MLB.tv and NHL.tv), and ESPN+ eventually could be a one-stop streaming shop for sports fans, and given the heavy investment, support, and backing of Disney, the plug isn’t going to get pulled any time soon.
Jay Rigdon: It’s in many ways a tossup here, but the choice is probably ESPN+. It has the backing of ESPN (which is essentially too big to fail at this point), and even the potential for a future package deal with Disney+ and other integration. Combined with a few big early rights deals that have apparently paid off in terms of a growing subscriber base, and you have a formidable product. The downside, if there is one, is that people already pay a lot for various subscriptions, even cord-cutters. Most people have a finite budget for streaming entertainment, and ESPN+ is positioned not only against DAZN and B/R Live, but against traditional cable and satellite packages, streaming TV bundles like YouTube TV, and other monthly entertainment subscriptions like Netflix, Hulu, and HBO Now. Even with the backing of ESPN, it might get lost in the mix for a lot of people.
But ESPN+ is still on the most stable ground of any of these options, so it’s the choice here.