ESPN televises many passes and pitches over the course of its thousands of hours of game-day coverage. Now the Walt Disney-backed sports-media giant is making a big throw of its own.
ESPN said it would make available hundreds of hours of professional and college sports, its library of programming and even rugby and cricket matches on its new “ESPN+” streaming service, which it intends to launch April 12 at a price of $4.99 per month.
Fans who pay for the service will be able to watch more than 180 different Major League Baseball games and more than 180 National Hockey League matches – about a game per day from each league in season – on the new app, as well as original shows and films and exclusive studio programming. “With ESPN+, fans have access to thousands more live games, world class original programs and on-demand sports content, all at a great price,” said Jimmy Pitaro, ESPN’s president, in a statement. ” They will get all of that as a part of a completely re-imagined, increasingly personalized ESPN App that provides easy, one-stop access to everything ESPN offers.”
The over-the-top entry carries a heavy burden. ESPN+ is the first direct-to-consumer service from Disney, which has signaled its intent to launch a separate streaming effort built around content from its Disney, Pixar, Marvel and Lucasfilm production units in 2019. Both are powered by BamTech, the digital-infrastructure company in which Disney purchased majority control in August. BamTech was instrumental in the construction of the popular streaming service operated by Time Warner’s HBO. If successful, the services could help offset an ongoing exodus of viewers from traditional pay-TV systems, which have generated billions of dollars in revenue for the entertainment giant for many years.
ESPN said it would offer an ESPN+ MLB game each day, seven days per week, throughout the MLB regular season; a daily NHL game throughout the hockey season starting with the 2018-2019 season; a year-round schedule of Top Rank Boxing matches, beginning with the April 21 Amir Khan vs. Phil Lo Greco bout in Liverpool, England; more than 250 Major League Soccer games, along with exclusive local-market games from the Chicago Fire; more than 100 days of coverage from PGA Tour events; and hundreds of tennis matches from Wimbledon, the U.S. Open and the Australian Open.
Fans of baseball and hockey will be able to purchase broader viewing opportunities for out-of-market games from the leagues and watch the games via ESPN+, all for separate fees.
College sport are also covered, with games from over a dozen conferences across the country including the America East, ASun, Big South, Big West, Horizon, Ivy League, MAAC, MAC, MEAC, Missouri Valley, NEC, Southern Conference, Southland, Summit League, Sun Belt, WAC and others.
But the service will also offer what might be seen as non-traditional content for a U.S. audience. ESPN+ will serve rugby matches from SANZAAR, the HSBC World Rugby Sevens series, and 18 regular-season matches in the inaugural season of Major League Rugby, the new American professional rugby union league. Meanwhile, U.S. fans of cricket will get matches across Test, ODI and T20 formats from New Zealand Cricket and Cricket Ireland.
ESPN fans will also be able to stream older content from the network’s video and radio library. More announcements regarding content are expected at a later time.