Last week, the Disney-owned sports network ESPN launched its own sports streaming service called ESPN+ in hopes of reaching an untapped market of binge watchers: those who would marathon a sports series. At $4.99 a month, the aim is to create a mini-Netflix for sports. However, rather than a flashy blockbuster opening with typical Disney flair, the release was surprisingly modest. It will not provide any marquee matchups of the NBA or NFL but will instead stream games from lesser-known soccer leagues, minor college sports, and international fixtures with limited American audiences, like rugby and cricket. As an addition to the software of the existing ESPN app, will this be a success in terms of enhancing consumer leisure?
As Jimmy Pitaro, the president of ESPN, says, the new service will go after the “hard-core sports fanatic” and the “underserved sports fan.” It is reasonably priced as far as streaming services go: ESPN+ costs fewer than five dollars a month, whereas Netflix ranges from $7.99 monthly charges upwards to $11.99 for its premium service. By keeping its price at a low flat rate, Disney may attract some interested buyers to opt into this new service instead of Netflix. But who exactly are these buyers?
One of the main advantages of attaining this subscription is that it could serve as a replacement to Netflix for a certain sect of customers, including avid college sports fans. The network announced Wednesday that it has agreed to a ten year deal which will grant viewers streaming access to the Ivy League Network, the league's proprietary internet TV platform which started in 2013; as such, every Ivy League football, men’s basketball, and women’s basketball game will be given screentime. In addition, ESPN+ will broadcast thousands of other live sporting events across several college, professional and international sports.
Another targeted market includes those enthralled by sports-related documentaries and history. Last summer, ESPN ended a deal to distribute its movies such as “O.J. Simpson: Made in America” on Netflix and announced it will be creating a separate streaming service with exclusive rights for Disney animated and live-action movies, including Star Wars content.
Nevertheless, some may be turned off by the lack of options and flexibility. ESPN+ gives subscribers one live MLB game and NHL game per day (neither of which are of their choosing). Consequently, these subscribers may be less likely to spend money watching teams in which they are not invested. Consumer leisure is predicated on providing people with a range of choices so they may choose their preferred option. In fact, expecting college sports fans to pay to view games at all may be an onerous task. Countless university students who are on tight budgets simply go to Reddit threads categorized by sport, where there are links to view any college or professional sports game for free. Likewise, Internet users have found methods to disseminate the Jumbotron stream of each stadium online, so anyone can watch their favorite team. All of the above reasons have lead to Netflix’s hesitation to enter the live sports streaming market.
With billions in revenue, ESPN can afford to test out ESPN+. However, due to its limited scope and free substitutes, this new service is expected to lose money for the first couple years. More so, ESPN+’s inaccessibility, in terms of consumer leisure, will not bode well for the future of this platform; unless large changes are implemented, ESPN may not become the trailblazer it had envisioned itself to be.