The sports world gasped and then scratched its head last week -- not because Loyola-Chicago almost pulled off the impossible (maybe next year!), but because ESPN finally announced the launch date and some (emphasis on some) of the details for its much-anticipated streaming service, ESPN+. Below, everything you need to know right now, a compendium we'll update as more information becomes available:
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What exactly is ESPN+?
It's ESPN's first direct-to-consumer streaming service; in other words, it wants to be something like ESPN's version of HBO NOW, so if you don't want to pay for a cable package to get your sports, you can ostensibly buy this guy as a standalone option. You'll find it April 12, when it launches in the ESPN App and on ESPN.com. It comes not long after reports said ESPN was weighing down the earnings of its parent company Walt Disney Co., which is set to launch another streaming service of its own in 2019. As Variety notes, "If successful, the [Disney] 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."
What does ESPN+ offer?
The service touts live sports, original shows and movies, studio programs, and an on-demand library. Not much is known about those last three, though there won't be much overlap with the big cable properties. Event-wise, you'll get:
- More than 180 MLB games, one game per day during the season
- More than 180 NHL games, one game per day during the season
- Access to main-event (e.g., Amir Khan vs. Phil Lo Greco) and undercard boxing bouts
- More than 250 MLS games, MLS Live's out-of-market schedule, 27 Chicago Fire matches, exclusive access to ESPN FC and the 12-episode 2018 FIFA World Cup series The Last Train to Russia
- College sports -- ranging from football and basketball to lacrosse and gymnastics -- from more than a dozen conferences, 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, and WAC, among others
- Thursday, Friday, and "some" Saturday and Sunday coverage from 31 PGA Tour events
- Tennis matches from Wimbledon, US Open, and Australian Open
- Coverage of SANZAR rugby, the HSBC World Rugby Sevens series, 18 matches from the inaugural season of the U.S.'s Major League Rugby
- Cricket from New Zealand and Ireland
The slate spells good news for soccer, boxing, and rugby and cricket fans, but notably missing are options for NFL, NBA, and Power Five college conference viewers. (College-wise, as Deadspin reported, it's also unclear what exactly's getting cannibalized from ESPN3.) Meaning: ESPN+ is not a huge win for sports fans who don't have or want cable, especially if you're interested in more mainstream sports. It's ultimately more an additive than an alternative.
Kobe Bryant will get his own show
ESPN+ will launch with Detail, a basketball analysis show written, produced, and hosted by Kobe Bryant. Over the course of 15 episodes, the former Laker star will break down moments from pivotal games in his career and look at highlights from the 2018 NBA Playoffs and Finals.
ESPN+ will be the new 30 for 30 home
When the streaming service launches, it will hold the exclusive premiere of the next 30 for 30 installment, The Last Days of Knight. Directed and narrated by Robert Abbott, the CNN producer who first investigated the story in 1999, the doc traces the downfall of Bob Knight and his legendary Indiana University basketball program. Upon arrival, ESPN notes, ESPN+ will also become "the only platform where fans can access the full [30 for 30] library."
How much does ESPN+ cost?
Subscribers will pay $4.99 per month, or, if truly smitten, $49.99 for the whole year. Users will also have the option to buy MLB.TV's out-of-market package for an additional $24.99 per month, and a similar option will be available for NHL.TV.
Should you get ESPN+?
If you're a Chicago Fire fan, probably! ESPN wants fans to "have access to thousands more live games, world class original programs and on-demand sports content, all at a great price." But while the price is good, the content so far seems lacking -- even if you love rugby and cricket -- and isn't making us chomp at the bit just yet. The silver lining, as some have pointed out, is ESPN+ seems like a work in progress, something that could grow into or pave the way for a streaming service that really is analogous to the sports version of HBO NOW. (N.B.: ESPN has also promised "more details about ESPN+ and the redesigned ESPN App -- including further details about live sports, original and on-demand programming" ahead of the official launch.) Until then, the best move might be to waaaaaaaait and see how ESPN+ stocks its shelves.
This post has been updated throughout.
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