ESPN+ dominates soccer; the numbers behind its success

ESPN+ dominates the soccer media landscape in the United States. And, frankly, it is not really up for discussion.

Since launching as a paid-streaming service in April 2018, ESPN+ features more coverage, more competitions and more simplicity than its competitors. In a time when streaming is the most common way to access a number of games, ESPN+ leads the way. ESPN+’s dominance in soccer follows a similar trajectory to the growth in popularity of the sport as a whole. Albeit, ESPN+ is significantly younger than soccer and welcomed a meteoric rise since its launch.

At that time, ESPN used its paid streaming service primarily for overflow content. Niche audiences that followed college sports, boxing and less-popular sports in the U.S. like rugby used ESPN+ as a new vehicle. However, soccer was also a key part of ESPN+ when it started up. A strong contingent of MLS, USL, Serie A and Eredivisie were a few examples of ESPN+’s original soccer content.

Speaking exclusively to World Soccer Talk, ESPN Vice President Programming and Acquisitions of Digital Media John Lasker says soccer has always held importance for ESPN+.

“We knew it was a key category for us, at ESPN overall, to expand our reach to new and more expanded audiences in ways that we were not able to do from just the linear perspective.”

ESPN+ by the numbers

Given that soccer has been a major priority for ESPN+, the stand-out metrics for 2021 are:

  1. ESPN+ streamed more than 22,000 total live events

    Of those, 5,400 were soccer matches

    The busiest day of 2021 had 152 live events that streamed

    The year 2021 featured more than 1,030 hours of soccer-focused studio shoulder programming, including news shows such as ESPN FC

ESPN+ has been quick to jump on the opportunity to get other assets. On one hand, CBS and Paramount+ took over the American rights to broadcast Serie A. At the same time, ESPN+ started airing Bundesliga and LaLiga fixtures to go along with its coverage. Therefore, ESPN+ owned the rights to major leagues in Spain and Germany, as well as cup competitions in those countries as well as the FA Cup in England.

READ MORE: How to watch soccer via ESPN+.

ESPN+ dominates soccer in 2021

This past year welcomed many soccer competitions that did not happen in 2020. Leagues and Cups from across the world picked back up, but we also saw a number of tournaments. Particularly the Copa America and Euros, both scheduled for 2020, arrived a year late.

While ESPN did hold the rights to Euro 2020, the entire schedule of fixtures aired on ESPN or ESPN2 rather than ESPN+. Still, ESPN+ dominated soccer coverage in a number of other ways.

A bulk of content served as the perfect opportunity for ESPN+ to up its content. In the same year that the media conglomerate acquired the rights to the National Hockey League, LaLiga joined the action.

Continued growth

Lasker is aiming for ESPN+’s dominance in soccer to continue to grow.

“We’re not done. The opportunity and the benefit that we have with ESPN+ and its relative infinite capacity is we can continue to add and continue to serve without taking away from the existing commitments we made.

“We are really proud of what we’ve done here. Being able to utilize the technology and the subscription platform of ESPN+ to expand ESPN’s reach to serve more sports fans. And, we are particularly proud of the soccer product that we put out there.”

ESPN+ dominates soccer based on quality and quantity. For the biggest soccer fans, the exclusive access to major competitions like the Bundesliga, LaLiga and FA Cup make the subscription service practically essential.

Therefore, it is no surprise that ESPN+’s subscriber count went from 1.4 million in the first fiscal quarter of 2019 to 17.1 million subscribers at the end of 2021. There are a number of reasons for that massive jump over three years.

However, the continued expansion of ESPN+‘s soccer coverage is among the biggest factors.

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