ESPN digital header

While ESPN won’t be including regional sports network (RSN) feeds on its digital platforms, it will soon provide links to games airing on several RSNs.

Per Deadline, ESPN has struck deals with both Fenway Sports Group (FSG) RSNs, NESN in Boston and SportsNet Pittsburgh, and the Monumental Sports Network in Washington DC to include links to live games airing on those networks.

The NESN links will go live this week, while the Monumental links will go live in May and SportsNet Pittsburgh links “will be added down the line.”

Among Big Four leagues, NESN broadcasts the Boston Bruins and Red Sox, while SportsNet Pittsburgh broadcasts the Pittsburgh Penguins and Pirates. Monumental airs the Washington Capitals and Wizards.

ESPN said the addition of links to these RSNs would aid in “improving discoverability” of where games are airing.

“This is about improving discoverability of people’s favorite teams and who’s carrying their games,” Tim Bayus, VP, ESPN Strategy, told Deadline in an interview. Easing “fragmentation and consumer confusion” is a central objective, he added. Internal research has indicated that avid sports viewers are “confused about where to find games, they’re frustrated,” Bayus added. “What we’re trying to do is solve those consumer pain points. This is a first step in trying to figure that out. We know it’s a meaty one to tackle.”

The links will be geotargeted, meaning only those in the viewing areas for the respective RSNs will see them. For instance, a user in Texas won’t see any of them, while a fan in Massachusetts will see NESN links.

A year ago, news about ESPN possibly rolling out this feature was reported. At the time, reports said ESPN desired “to become the de facto first stop for all consumers looking where to watch live sports.” While further details about this arrangement with the three RSNs have yet to be revealed, it was rumored last year that ESPN had “considered a model in which it would take a cut of subscription revenue from a user who signed up for a streaming service.” Both NESN and Monumental offer direct-to-consumer (DTC) streaming options, though SportsNet Pittsburgh does not have one. All three networks can also be streamed with an authenticated login for subscribers who receive the networks through their cable, satellite, or streaming service.

NHL games are also available to out-of-market fans on ESPN+ through its Power Play service.

For ESPN, this seems like a no-loss situation. The worst-case scenario is that no one clicks through to the links, but fans would at least be informed by their inclusion. The best case is that fans do click through and some sign up for DTC services, bringing some money into ESPN (if that is indeed part of the agreement between ESPN and the three RSNs).

We’ll see if deals with more RSNs get struck in the coming months. This also seems like a mostly no-lose situation for them as well, as I’m failing to see a downside from the country’s most dominant digital sports brand linking to your streaming content.


About Joe Lucia

I hate your favorite team. I also sort of hate most of my favorite teams.