I cannot understate the power of Disney+’s soccer coverage. Granted, most audiences do not think of Disney+ as a sports provider. Usually, ESPN+, Paramount+ or Peacock get that designation.

Last week, SportBusiness writer Bob Williams reported growing ESPN+ numbers. While encouraging, they do not come anywhere close to the subscriber numbers for Disney+ which was launched about 18 months after ESPN+.

What this tells us is that the Disney+ bundle that includes ESPN+ has been purchased by fewer than a third of subscribers to Disney’s new streaming service. But it also reflects the sheer power of Disney to gain so many sign-ups for direct-to-consumer in such a short period of time partly thanks to an incredibly low price point. 

The power of Disney+’s soccer coverage

The ESPN+ number, while growing at an impressive rate, is small compared to the subscriptions for a service that was launched 18 months after ESPN+ . This also reminds us that live sports still are nowhere near as popular as streaming content in the US such as on-demand movies and TV programs. But it seems clear that live streaming sports are an important part of any comprehensive direct-to-consumer media offering, and that soccer is a critical part of any such plan. 

Bundles incentivize sign-ups in a streaming market with growing competition. This is why CBS targeted the UEFA Champions League as an enhancement to its existing CBS All-Access streaming service which has a similar styled library of content as Disney+ and Hulu when taken together. Adding live sports gives CBS All Access the ability to compete with the Disney+ bundle with one service. CBS, like Disney, recognizes the fanatical nature of soccer fans as well as how streaming savvy those who watch the beautiful game tend to be. 

Peacock, NBCUniversal’s new streaming service, will also compete with the Disney+ bundle. This leaves players who have split their offering like FOX Sports, B/R Live/Turner and others without a direct-to-consumer platform that can counter the power of Disney+’s soccer coverage. But distribution deals with other streaming services such as fubo and Sling are likely to at least somewhat even the playing field for the other broadcasters.

NBC coverage of Manchester City’s UEFA ban 

NBCSN’s Premier League Live on Friday opened with breaking news. Just 15 minutes or so before the 2PM ET start of the program, UEFA announced a two-year ban for Manchester City in any UEFA club competition. On the fly, Ahmed Fareed directed the discussion in studio as well as NBCSN’s clever use of its partner Sky Sports in the UK to bring up-to-the minute information on the ban.  

Fareed was able to lead an intelligent discussion on the subject with Robbie Mustoe and Kyle Martino. It’s important to note during the show that rumors were circulating on social media about the scope of the ban. It’s difficult to deal with live breaking news even if you have the resources of a CNN or BBC. NBC pulled together a show and some really high-end discussion quickly, and once again demonstrated why they are uniquely equipped to present the news of sport better than most of the competition. 

On Saturday, Rebecca Lowe hosted a smart discussion on the same topic in the middle of a three hour show that focused mostly on Liverpool. 

Sunday’s discussion gave more clarity as Robbie Mustoe went through each potential scenario for Pep Guardiola, while Kyle Martino shared his perspective on reported contract clauses that would allow Manchester City players to leave if Champions League football is not in the offing. 

ESPN needs to consider hiring Ian Joy for Bundesliga coverage

Ian Joy, normally heard on FOX Sports, provided co-commentary on the world feed of Dortmund-Eintracht Frankfurt Friday. Joy is a top co-commentator. Additionally, he serves as an excellent studio host at FOX, as he did at beIN SPORTS.

Joy, who played in England, Germany, Scotland, MLS and USSF D2, has an uncanny knowledge of the European game. Joy calls matches in Europe, a rare opportunity for an American. Fortunately, he excels in that position. His versatility was on display during FOX’s broadcast of Bayern-RB Leipzig on February 9 when he was able to knowledgeably discuss the three former MLS players that started that match – including Angelino who Joy had covered as NYCFC co-commentator for local broadcasts. 

ESPN, as they fire up Bundesliga coverage next season, would be well-advised to take a serious and long look at Joy either as a presenter or co-commentator. ESPN desires an aura of expertise. Joy, along with Taylor Twellman, Adrian Healey and Craig Burley provide that. Moreover, this team provides the seriousness the Bundesliga never felt in this country.

Joy played a role in FOX’s 2018 FIFA World Cup coverage, and could play a similar role for ESPN at Euro 2020 if they so desire. 

Serie A on ESPN moving forward

ESPN had a full halftime show during Sunday’s Juventus-Brescia on ESPN2, where they looked at the Serie A title race and ahead to the match later in the day between Lazio and Inter who both entered the day a point behind Juventus. Dan Thomas hosted the halftime show with Gab Marcotti as his analyst. Gab’s expertise on Serie A has been a big boost to ESPN’s coverage. 

As always, Mark Donaldson and Matteo Bonetti called the game well. But, one of the best aspects of ESPN’s coverage for U.S. Serie A coverage is the in-match highlights from other games in the division. The clips aired minutes after goals from Sampdoria-Fiorentina and Parma-Sassuolo, which allowed Donaldson and Bonetti to discuss the league as a whole and keep viewers updated on developments elsewhere. 

ESPN’s timing in acquiring Serie A rights seems to have been perfect. Napoli had run Juventus almost to the wire for the title in the 17-18 season, the last of six on beIN SPORTS. In each of those six seasons, Juventus won the title. But ESPN has not only come in as Juventus’ grip on the league is loosening, but as Inter, perhaps the only club with resources to truly challenge Juventus long-term, has reemerged from one of the worst periods in the club’s modern history.