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.ESPN Plus Explained
ESPN+ (pronounced ESPN Plus) is an American over-the-top subscription video streaming service available in the United States, owned by Disney Media and Entertainment Distribution, in partnership with ESPN Inc., which is a joint venture between The Walt Disney Company (which owns a controlling 80% stake) and the Hearst Communications (which owns the remaining 20%). It is one of Disney's three flagship subscription streaming brands in the United States, alongside Disney+ and Hulu, and operates using technology of Disney subsidiary BAMTech.
ESPN+ is marketed as an add-on to ESPN's core linear networks, with some of ESPN+'s content previously offered exclusively to cable subscribers via ESPN3 and the WatchESPN app. ESPN+ does not include access to these services, as they continue to only be available through television providers. Thus, some of ESPN's sports rights are not carried on ESPN+.
Featured content on ESPN+ includes combat sports (including coverage of the Ultimate Fighting Championship and Top Rank boxing), college sports, cricket, rugby union, soccer (including out-of-market Major League Soccer matches), golf (including coverage of the PGA Championship) and tennis. The National Hockey League and Major League Baseball's out-of-market sports packages, also operated through BAMTech, are sold through the platform as add-ons. The service also features archive content, ESPN original documentaries, and access to premium content on ESPN.com.
As of December 31, 2020, ESPN + has 12.1 million subscribers.
In August 2016, The Walt Disney Company acquired a minority stake in BAMTech, a spin-out of MLB Advanced Media's streaming technology business, for $1 billion, with an option to acquire a majority stake in the future. It was also announced that Disney subsidiary ESPN was planning to develop an over-the-top service based on BAMTech technology as "an exploratory OTT project", drawing primarily from ESPN-owned rights for events not broadcast on television. ESPN already used BAMTech's platform for its TV Everywhere service WatchESPN. Disney CEO Bob Iger remarked that despite declines in the pay television industry due to cord-cutting, "live sports has really thrived, even in a world where there's so much more for people to do and to watch."
In August 2017, Disney invoked its option to acquire a controlling stake in BAMTech, and announced that it planned to launch its ESPN OTT service in 2018, followed by a Disney entertainment OTT service in 2019 (thus ending its relationship with Netflix). At this time, Disney stated that the new ESPN service would draw from ESPN-owned sports rights, as well as MLB, NHL, and Major League Soccer content (although lacking major ESPN-owned rights such as the NBA and NFL), and that an accompanying redesign of the ESPN app would make it a "premier digital destination" for sports content. During Disney's fourth-quarter earnings call, Iger revealed that the service would be known as ESPN+.
In December 2017, Disney announced its intent to acquire 21st Century Fox after the spin-off of certain businesses. The deal was to include the Fox Sports Networks group of regional sports networks (which Disney was ordered to divest under antitrust grounds), which led to suggestions that Disney wanted to incorporate FSN's regional sports rights into the service.
In February 2018, Iger stated that ESPN was aiming for a monthly price of $4.99. ESPN+ and BAMTech were placed into the newly formed Disney business segment, Disney Direct-to-Consumer and International, on March 14, 2018. On April 2, 2018, ESPN announced that ESPN+ would officially launch on April 12, 2018, and confirmed its $4.99 per-month pricing.
On August 21, 2018, ESPN announced that it had merged its existing ESPN Insider subscription service into ESPN+, adding access to premium ESPN.com content (such as exclusive beat reports, and advanced sports statistics and analytics tools) to the service. Both services shared the same monthly price, but ESPN Insider's existing annual subscribers were grandfathered under its previous $39.99 per-year price (as opposed to $49.99 for ESPN+), and all former ESPN Insider subscribers continued to receive the complimentary subscription to ESPN The Magazine that was part of the subscription. The magazine ended print publication in September 2019.
On October 31, 2018, ESPN executive Russell Wolff was named executive vice president and general manager.
On August 6, 2019, Disney announced that it will offer a bundle of ESPN+ with Disney+ and the ad-supported Hulu for $12.99 per-month. The bundle was officially released on November 12, the same day of the launch of Disney+.
In October 2019, ESPN+ began to add pre-roll advertising to on-demand content on the service.
On October 22, 2020, it was announced that a larger amount of ESPN.com articles (primarily analysis) would become paywalled and require an ESPN+ subscription to read. It was also announced that video simulcasts of the ESPN Radio programs The Dan Le Batard Show, Greeny, The Max Kellerman Show, and Chiney & Golic Jr., as well as Jorge Ramos y Su Banda, would be moved exclusively to ESPN+ from the ESPN networks.
Programming Its launch content included boxing (including Top Rank events and archive content through 2025), college sports events (including Ivy League events, with the conference having reached a 10-year media rights deal with ESPN prior to the service's launch), coverage of Tennis Grand Slams, as well as international cricket (India national cricket team, Cricket Ireland, and New Zealand Cricket), soccer (including Major League Soccer, the United Soccer League, the U.S. Open Cup, 2019 Copa America, the English Football League (including Cup), Serie A, and rugby events.
ESPN+ features out of market Major League Soccer matches at no additional charge for subscribers (replacing the previous MLS Live service MLB.tv and NHL.tv (which are operated by BAMTech) are also available for purchase within the ESPN+ platform, and offer daily games during their regular seasons for ESPN+ subscribers.
PGA Tour Live (which was also ran by BAMTech) was included for the 2018 PGA Tour season, but moved to NBC Sports Gold in 2019. ESPN+ will offer supplemental feeds during the PGA Championship beginning 2020, including during CBS broadcast windows.
In 2022, PGA Tour Live will return to ESPN+ as part of a new long-term deal with the PGA Tour through 2030.
In March 2019, the American Athletic Conference announced a 12-year media rights deal with ESPN, under which ESPN+ will carry the majority of events not aired by ESPN's linear channels.
In May 2019, it was announced that ESPN+ would carry 18 World TeamTennis matches.
In September 2019, ESPN+ announced its acquisition of rights to Germany's Bundesliga soccer league beginning in 2020, under a six-year deal. In the 2019-20 season, ESPN+ acquired the third-tier media rights for all but two Big 12 Conference teams (excluding Oklahoma and Texas, which have separate contracts with Fox and the ESPN-run Longhorn Network), carrying the games as part of a branded portal known as Big 12 Now.
During the 2020 Major League Baseball season's Wild Card Series round, ESPN+ aired Squeeze Play—which featured live look-ins and analysis of the seven series ESPN held rights to (in a similar manner to the ESPN Bases Loaded service it offered during the NCAA baseball tournament), as well as Statcast broadcasts of selected games.
In May 2018, the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) announced new five-year digital and linear television rights deals with ESPN, effective January 2019. 20 live UFC on ESPN+ Fight Night events per-year will be streamed exclusively by the service, as well as preliminaries for 10 live UFC on ESPN Fight Night events per-year. ESPN+ will also hold rights to supplemental content such as Dana White's Contender Series, archive content and PPV encores, and offer sales of UFC Fight Pass within the platform. The first ESPN+ event, UFC Fight Night: Cejudo vs. Dillashaw, generated 525,000 new subscribers on the day of the event alone.
On March 18, 2019, it was announced that ESPN had reached a two-year extension of its contract with the UFC. Beginning with UFC 236, ESPN+ became the exclusive U.S. carrier of all UFC pay-per-view events for residential customers, meaning they are no longer sold through television providers.
Sports rights ESPN+ focuses on overflow content, similar to that of ESPN3 (which is distributed to subscribers of participating internet and television subscribers). Some of ESPN3's content has since moved to ESPN+.
On March 10, 2021, ESPN and the NHL announced they entered into seven-year agreement for ESPN to have broadcast rights for NHL games. This includes an exclusive package of over 1,000 out of market games available on ESPN+ that were part of the NHL.TV subscription package prior to the 2021-2022 season.
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ESPN+ also carries ESPN original programming and documentaries, such as the 30 for 30 franchise (with some premiering on ESPN+ prior to their premiere on ESPN), and exclusive original series and studio programs:
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