ESPN has a plan to stack its live streaming video service, ESPN+, with more live sports: make the streamer a part of its TV rights negotiations with sports leagues and rights holders.
ESPN+ currently offers games from MLB, MLS, various soccer leagues and the UFC, among others. However, top-tier games from the major leagues, as well as NBA or NFL games, are not currently available on the platform.
During an appearance at a conference hosted by The Wall Street Journal, ESPN president Jimmy Pitaro laid out his strategy for securing more sports rights.
“As we negotiate, as we enter into new deals, you will see us more and more acquire new rights for the ESPN+ platform,” Pitaro said.
In other words, as ESPN begins to negotiate new TV rights deals over the coming years, it will include both linear components and ESPN+ components.
In addition, ESPN+ could serve as a place to do alternative broadcasts of live games. ESPN has experimented with having multiple broadcast crews doing traditional coverage, as well as crews featuring supporters of each team, or analytics or fantasy-focused broadcast coverage.
“You can 100% expect to see more of that, where we don’t just have the broadcast for linear television, we can do something a bit different for the ESPN+ service,” Pitaro said.
Of course, securing new sports rights is no easy (or inexpensive) task. In addition to other sports TV networks, tech companies like Google or Amazon are dipping their toes in the sports streaming waters. Startups like DAZN are trying to muscle their way in as well.
“Even in this much more competitive environment, with the 'FAANGs' and the smaller startups and the traditional competitors, we have always had competition, and we have always done quite well in terms of acquiring new rights,” Pitaro said.
Right now, ESPN+ has 2 million subscribers, but Pitaro said the company is targeting 8 million to 12 million subscribers in just a few years time.