ESPN recently revealed what will be included as part of their April 12 launch of ESPN+ and there is cause to be concern
Among the highlights: the price of $49.99 per year, out-of-market MLS broadcasts, UEFA Nations League, the Championship, the EFL Cup and a World Cup show called The Last Train to Russia that will be exclusive to the OTT (over-the-top) service.
As great as this product seems, it reminds me of another $50 service launched in 2017.
Every Premier League match was available for free using your cable provider authentication in the NBC Sports App as of 2016. This included the incredibly entertaining Goal Rush broadcast. A year later, NBCSN decided to make this service worth $50 per season on top of your regular cable subscription.
With NBC Sports Gold, NBCSN pushed their broadcasts further into the Internet abyss, making less popular Premier League clubs even harder to find than before. This was long before the US Men’s National Team failure to qualify for the 2018 World Cup.
Instead of making NBC Sports Gold’s Premier League Pass a service that included all games, it ended up being an in-between solution that no one asked for or wanted. NBCSN forced its subscribers to keep their cable/satellite subscription AND pay for the new subscription to have the option to watch all 380 matches. It was a loss for both cord-cutters and cable-subscribers.
ESPN+ will not feature many major live sports broadcasts; it will only feature 1 MLB and 1 NHL game per week. And there’s no mention of ESPN’s Monday Night Football or its two weekly NBA games. In short, this service will not help you cut the cord, but rather seeks to complement the expensive cable/satellite subscription you already have.
ESPN’s new offering has the same caveats
Further proof of the US’s lack of interest in soccer can be found in bars across the country. For example, last year I went to a bar in downtown Boston (a sports town in every sense). All the TV monitors in the bar were tuned to an obscure college football game. Except for two. When I asked the bartender to tune to NBCSN to watch the Premier League match, he commiserated with a buddy, laughed at me and said, “We are not a soccer bar.”
So there I was, stuck watching Battle of the Network Stars on the two TVs closest to me.
This bar thought so little of soccer that they preferred to subject themselves to C-list celebrities playing tug-of-war rather than watching Manchester United play.
That’s how ESPN+ feels to me. Just Bleacher Report Live, it’s a service that has combined a niche sport such as lacrosse with soccer, hoping that the hardcore soccer fans will pay for it. It’s not the price of the service that’s the issue. It’s the mere condescending attitude by ESPN, Turner Sports and NBC to put soccer games on a paid-subscription platform, reminding me of the days when most soccer games were only available via pay-per-view. Have things gotten any better since those days?
Want even more proof? Last week, FOX Sports relegated the broadcast of the UEFA Champions League match between Liverpool and Manchester City to FS2. This channel is available to an estimated 58 million households compared to FS1’s 83 million homes. It’s as if FOX Sports doesn’t care about their soccer viewers.
Now by ESPN following NBC’s example, interest in soccer will undoubtedly be further diminished. For soccer fans, the impact of the USMNT’s failure to qualify for the 2018 World Cup will be felt for even longer than it should be.
It will be interesting to follow the ratings in the United States as the World Cup plays out. But as the big broadcasting companies continue to make it significantly more difficult to access the beautiful game, how can you miss something you never had?
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