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ESPN Banking on Pro Sports Exclusivity to Help Power The Future of ESPN+

Jeff Kotuby

As more and more streaming services start to grab media rights to various sports leagues, ESPN is hoping its current rights deals can power ESPN+ into the streaming arms race.

An analysis by Adweek looked closely at ESPN and its new deals with the NHL, NFL, and MLB, among other pro sports entities, and how the streaming exclusivity involved in those deals are geared toward driving increased viewership on ESPN+, it’s premium online streaming service.

Streaming rights have played a large part in the new pro sports deals, overall, but most specifically in the NHL deal. As a part of the new NHL package, ESPN+ will exclusively stream 75 regular-season contests per season, over 1,000 out-of-market games per season, and allow fans to stream playoff and even Stanley Cup Final games, too.

Internally, the NHL is thrilled to have ESPN back on board — and ESPN feels the same way.

“We were very interested in getting that exclusively for ESPN+, and that was one of the absolute tentpoles and priorities from our perspective as that conversation matured,” Burke Magnus, president of programming and original content for ESPN, told Adweek. “That’s a perfect example of something that checks all the boxes, both for us in terms of our priorities of growing a new business, but also for a rights holder who wants big reach and to find fans and grow their audience.”


ESPN+ is a live TV streaming service that gives access to thousands of live sporting events, original shows like Peyton’s Place, the entire library of 30 for 30, E:60, The Last Dance, as well exclusive written analysis from top ESPN insiders.

The service can be subscribed for US$6.99 / month per month or annually for US$69.99 / year.

You will get a daily out-of-market game from MLB, and every out-of-market NHL and MLS game with NHL.TV and MLS LIVE.

The service has some of the most attractive soccer coverage including Bundesliga, LaLiga, FA Cup, UEFA Nations League, EFL Championship, EFL Carabao Cup, Eredevise and more.

College sports fans will be able to watch thousands of games and events including football, basketball, baseball, softball, soccer, track & field, gymnastics, swimming & diving, lacrosse, wrestling, volleyball, golf, and more.

For boxing and UFC fans, the service offers Top Rank boxing and will be the home of 15 exclusive UFC events.

ESPN+ now includes exclusive insights from analysts like Mel Kiper and Todd McShay (which used to be part of ESPN Insider), as well as premium Fantasy Tools & PickCenter.

What it does not include is most live sports that air on ESPN AND ESPN2.

To get access to those channels you have to subscribe to a live TV streaming service. We suggest reading our guide on How to Watch ESPN without Cable.

ESPN’s new NFL deal also includes much in the way of streaming. ESPN+ will air one international game and can simulcast Monday Night Football games that air on ESPN and ABC — and starting with the 2022 season, ESPN+ will stream one exclusive national game each season.

In the MLB deal, ESPN will receive the rights to produce alternate presentations across its platforms, as well as the opportunity to simulcast all ESPN and ABC game telecasts on ESPN+. As the MLB is one of the most conservative leagues, it makes sense that their first foray into streaming would be a little less involved than the others.

Interestingly, the Adweek article doesn’t mention two other leagues that have a large presence on ESPN — the NBA and UFC. The UFC is only available on ESPN’s properties and has already helped drive traffic to ESPN+ thanks to its near-weekly pay-per-view events. Fight fans were also found to be more loyal to ESPN+ than non-fight fans, according to an Antenna report. The NBA’s rights deal will expire after the 2024-25 season and any renewal will likely include much in the way of streaming rights.

“Streaming is obviously central and critical to where The Walt Disney Company is going, and direct to consumer specifically, and ESPN+ as the sports piece of it is a huge priority inside the company,” said Russell Wolf, EVP and general manager of ESPN+.

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