The ability to watch live sports is one of the major reasons I'm still tethered to cable TV. Will ESPN+ change that?
The new $4.99-per-month streaming service promises a steady stream of live sports, original content and on-demand programming from its library.
Marquee match-ups are going to remain where they are now — on ESPN's multitude of cable channels, requiring you to do business with your cable provider if you still want to watch things like college bowl games and weekly NBA showdowns. And don't expect to see the next North Carolina-Duke college basketball match-up on ESPN+ when it can deliver big ratings on one of the main ESPN channels. Still, the ESPN+ service, which launches April 12, promises enough as-they-happen games and original programming to give people who've already cut the cord their live sports fix.
The new streaming service comes from BAMTech, formerly Major League Baseball's Advanced Media Arm and now a partly owned subsidiary of ESPN owner Disney. ESPN+ is also part of Disney's effort to roll out more of its own paid streaming content.
While ESPN's current slate of live sports isn't making the move over to ESPN+, there are still a lot of games left over to fit on the streaming service. Specifically, ESPN is promising that Major League Baseball, NHL hockey, boxing, MLS soccer and assorted college sports — everything from football and basketball to less-covered spots like volleyball, golf, track and swimming — will find a home on ESPN+. ESPN also promises PGA golf coverage, Grand Slam tennis matches and international sports like rugby and cricket will be part of its monthly streaming package.
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It's the baseball, hockey and soccer that may intrigue some sports fans. As part of your $4.99 monthly subscription, you'll get an out-of-market MLB game and an out-of-market NHL game each day when those sports are in season. You'll be able to add a full slate of out-of-market baseball games as part of MLB.TV for $24.99. When the 2018-19 hockey season begins next fall, you'll also be able to tack on NHL.TV for an extra fee. (This isn't exactly a surprise: BAMTech operates both of those streaming sports packages.)
ESPN+ is also absorbing MLS Live, meaning all out-of-market matches from the North American soccer league will be streamable through the new service. Considering that MLS Live used to cost subscribers $80 a year, that's a considerable value for soccer fans.
That's great news if you're a fan of, say, the Chicago Fire (especially since ESPN+ will apparently be the local market home for 27 Fire matches in Chicago), but probably not enough to make you want to chuck your cable subscription. Instead, ESPN seems to be targeting people who've already given up on cable, with a package that restores access to some live sports. And to keep ESPN+'s monthly fee low, it's keeping more high-profile events on its cable channels.
ESPN+ will be available through the ESPN.com website as well as part of a revamped ESPN mobile app. Expect more details on the app before next week's ESPN+ launch.