Launched in April 2018 as part of ESPN’s attempt to combat falling linear-TV subscriber numbers, ESPN+ features mainly second-tier packages (i.e. lesser games or events) for premium properties and sports that are not popular in the US, such as cricket and rugby union.
This is because ESPN+ is unable to broadcast its top-tier premium rights such as Monday Night Football or the NBA Playoffs, or make an online stream of the ESPN linear channel available on a standalone basis, due to the lucrative carriage agreements it has in place with pay-TV platforms. These agreements currently generate more than $7.6bn per year and include clauses that ensure that certain key events must be broadcast exclusively on ESPN’s linear channels (though these can be viewed online by authenticated pay-TV subscribers).
To date, ESPN+’s main acquisition has been the rights to 20 exclusive UFC events on a five year-agreement from 2019 to 2023, as well as rights to Italian Serie A.
Via its majority stake in BamTech – operator of MLB.TV, NHL Centre Ice, PGA Tour Live, and MLS Live – ESPN+ is able to provide its subscribers with one MLB and one NHL game every day during their respective seasons, early-round PGA Tour coverage and the MLS out-of-market package, although these are not marquee matches.