ESPN “stacking up” global soccer rights for ESPN+

ESPN has said it is “stacking up global soccer as much we can” for its direct-to-consumer digital product ESPN+.

Burke Magnus, ESPN’s executive vice-president of programming and scheduling, said quickly accumulating US content rights for international soccer has proven to be a key initial priority for the over-the-top offering, which debuted in April 2018. 

ESPN last summer gained rights to Italy’s Serie A and the English FA Cup in a three-year deal in an agreement Magnus said would not have been possible to service properly without ESPN+. The agreement includes broadcast rights to more than 340 games per season, including a match of the week, and shoulder programming, representing the kind of rights deal that ESPN would have not had room to air solely on linear TV channels.

That rights agreement has been joined by others with American distribution rights for the Eredivisie in the Netherlands, the Chinese Super League, and the A-League in Australia, among many others, that also have been shown primarily on ESPN+.

“We’re looking at all territories,” Magnus said. “We probably could do more in Latin America, South America, Central America, Mexico. That’s the next place we’re going to look….For an overall soccer fan, just having this buffet of great leagues and tournaments around the world is part of our design of making ESPN+ an indispensable proposition for a fan in that category. But in you need to have a critical mass [of rights] in order to have that dynamic.”

ESPN’s parent company, The Walt Disney Co., said in February ESPN+ had surpassed 2 million subscribers in less than 10 months. The product, costing $4.99 per month and not requiring a cable TV subscription, also includes live games and matches for Major League Baseball, the National Hockey League, Major League Soccer, and the Ultimate Fighting Championship, among other programming.