Up until the release of ESPN+ in 2018, streaming services had largely been laser-focused on bringing you the best shows and movies they could get their mitts on - often going as far as creating their own to win over the next generation of cord-cutters and cord-nevers.
This line of thinking brought us shows like Stranger Things and Making a Murderer on Netflix, The Man in the High Castle and Transparent on Amazon and The Handmaid’s Tale on Hulu. These shows are undeniably great in their execution, however, they aren’t going to persuade someone who loves sports to give up their cable package.
For that crowd, ESPN rolled up its sleeves to bring streaming video to the hundreds of thousands of ride-or-die sports lovers out there - launching ESPN+ on April 12, 2018 and with it a whole new way to consume hockey, baseball, soccer, UFC and much more.
And now that you can bundle it in with Disney+, too, there's even more to like.
- See how ESPN+ performs in our best sports streaming sites countdown
What is ESPN+ and what does it offer?
ESPN+ is a streaming service package from ESPN. The package brings together live events, on-demand content and original programming not found on any other ESPN network - and puts them alongside free content from ESPN’s mother service.
It’s important to point out that while it’s separate in terms of content from anything else on ESPN, it shares a lot of the same attributes to the content you’re used to watching. Namely, it’s highly produced sports content that focuses on the biggest leagues, players and teams in the NHL, MLB, MLS, NFL and NBA. Subscribe to it, and you’ll often float between the different leagues, selecting teams to follow and watching highlights from their last game or predictions about what’s going to happen for them next.
So you can think of ESPN+ as an affordable, supplementary streaming service that gives you extra shows, behind-the-scenes content and, most importantly, an ad-free environment to watch the content you already love. While ESPN+ may not offer exactly the same content you’ve come to love on standard ESPN, it brings you much more of the same type of content.
So, what does that $4.99 per month (or $49.99 for the whole year) entry fee get you?
With ESPN+ you’re able to watch every out-of-market MLS match, alongside one NHL and MLB game per day during their respective regular seasons. You’ll also be able to watch live sporting events like golf's PGA Tour, top-tier boxing matches and a whole tonne of international soccer.
But perhaps the biggest coup ESPN+ has pulled of so far is the right to live stream all UFC events in the US. Every Fight Night and numbered PPV event is now shown on ESPN+ - although the latter requires PPV-spends, of course.
In addition to all the live sport on offer to stream with a subscription, ESPN+ adds value to your monthly payment with plenty of original programming, too. For those MMA fans who are only in it for the UFC, there's original content including Dana White’s Contender Series, UFC Destined, and Ariel & The Bad Guy, plus classic fights, replays, and there’s also the perk of fewer adverts. But you can also see a whole host of additional 30 for 30 documentaries on a broader range of sports as well.
ESPN+ price, cancellation and bundles
As we've said above, one of ESPN+'s major selling points is its price. For the extra sporting action you'll be privy to, $4.99 a month coming out of the bank account doesn't feel like too much of a hardship. And if you know that you're likely to get a full 12 months of enjoyment out of ESPN+, then the extra value comes if you sign up for a year for $49.99.
But go for that shorter term subscription, and commitment-phobes can breathe a sigh of relief. That's because each sub only lasts 30 days. Remember to cancel before they come to an end, and you can walk away from ESPN+ without difficulty. We really like the flexible nature of this service, which takes its cues from the likes of Netflix.
If you can't really justify yet another streaming subscription - and one that's solely for sport - then there's another option that might suit. ESPN is jointly owned buy Disney, so there's a bundle that lets you get ESPN+, Disney Plus and Hulu for a flexible monthly sum of a mere $12.99. You can sign up for the great value bundle by heading to Disney+'s website here.
How do I watch ESPN+?
All things considered, ESPN+ is pretty easy to tune into. That’s because ESPN+ is built off the back of ESPN’s already pretty robust omnipresence on PCs, tablets and smartphones. ESPN+ is now available on Xbox One and PS4 consoles.
Specifically, you can tune into ESPN+ on your web browser by heading to the service's website and signing up for the service.
If you’re more of a mobile sports watcher, download the ESPN app from either the Apple App Store or Google Play Store and sign up for the service there. Or, if you like the traditional feel of sitting on the couch to watch the game, ESPN+ is available on Apple TV, Chromecast and the Amazon Fire TV platform - and now on the Roku platform, too.
There’s no price difference between the platforms, and one account can be carried over to the other platforms just by signing in - which is pretty convenient. Speaking of convenient, because ESPN+ ties into your existing ESPN account, you can use the same login info.
One last thing that’s worth pointing out here despite its very obvious nature, is that you’ll need access to the internet to watch ESPN+ - i.e. even if you decide to cut the cord, you’ll still need to pay your cable company (or ISP) for internet access. If you’re reading this website right now, it’s something you pay for already - so just don’t cut your cable provider off entirely should you decide to cut the old cable TV cord.
How ESPN+ is different than ESPN, ESPN2, ESPN3, etc…
ESPN is trying to be very careful with ESPN+. The last thing the media giant wants to do is cannibalize its own business or, worse, ruin its standing with cable companies on whom it depends on carrying its service at a reasonable price.
To that end, there’s not a ton of crossover between the stuff you’d find on ESPN - namely, sports commentary shows like Sports Center and Around the Horn - and the stuff you’d find on ESPN+. Right now, that consists of a lot of very specific content for MLB, NHL and MLS fans.
Besides live content, the other component to consider with ESPN+ is its library of excellent ESPN documentaries and ESPN+ exclusive shows. This would include ESPN’s excellent 30 for 30 docs, and new shows like Detail with host Kobe Bryant, Draft Academy, ESPN FC, In the Crease and more. These are great if you’re in between games and you’re looking for something inspirational or captivating to pass the time.
All that said, if you’re not a cable subscriber and the only service you buy into is ESPN+, you’ll be missing out on a fair amount of programming: While we were busy watching that English League One matchup, ESPN was playing Pardon the Interruption; ESPN2 had NFL Live and ESPN3 had a number of upcoming boxing matches.
Without cable, you can’t tune into any of them - and because the services are so closely tied together, you’re constantly reminded of all the content you can’t watch.
Perhaps one day you’ll be able to pay for one service to get everything on ESPN - sports talk shows, live events, content from MLB.tv and the NFL Network and ESPN docs all in one spot, but for now that’s just not possible.
Should you subscribe to ESPN+?
It depends really. If you're the kind of sports fan who religiously follows one team or just wants to see as many matches as possible, ESPN+ isn't really the service for you. You're rather at the whim of what the platform offers up on a day-to-day basis, and it just can't compete with more traditional cable sports services.
For more general sports fans, having access to a number of MLS games and one to two NHL and MLB games is wonderful and is more than enough to fill a day’s worth of programming. Add the 30-for-30 docs and you’re sure to have an action-packed week with the service.
But ESPN+’s biggest selling point is that it’s cheap and its $5-per-month price tag is unlikely to break the bank for any of its subscribers - plus, you can cancel at the end of the 30 days without hassle. That makes it almost like a PPV service for when it does have an event or match on that you really want to see.