As expected, ESPN Plus, ESPN's new pay streaming service that will launch in the spring, will carry MLS Live, MLS's streaming service for live games unavailable to fans on national television or in
their local markets.
Bloomberg first reported
teams have been notified of the switch, which the league has not yet announced. Because the launch date is in the spring after MLS starts its 2018 season in early March, Bloomberg reported that MLS
games that would have aired on MLS Live and will move to ESPN Plus will be available for free on mlssoccer.com
. What is ESPN Plus?
ESPN Plus is distinct from ESPN, ESPN2, ESPN Deportes or other ESPN networks that air live sports events. ESPN Plus will carry, according to
Disney CEO Bob Iger
, “an incremental thousands of hours of live sports programming” as well as original programming.
Fans will still have to have cable or subscribe to
a live streaming content service to get ESPN, ESPN2 and ESPN Deportes. ESPN will have 28 regular-season broadcasts in 2018, ESPN2 will carry three games, and all 31 games will be available on ESPN
What that means is a "cord-cutter" won't be able to just get ESPN Plus to watch all MLS games on ESPN. That will be similar to the NBC Sports Gold, which carries EPL games
unavailable on one of the NBC networks each matchday.
Fans won't be able to watch MLS games available on ESPN Plus if their home team's games are being carried on a local or regional
platform. That usually means a local channel or regional sports network, though teams are beginning to add local digital options
. Conversely, fans outside the team's
market will be geo-fenced from accessing these local digital streams. What will ESPN Plus cost?
ESPN Plus will cost $4.99 a
month, which is less than MLS Live priced at $79.99 a year in 2017. It will be available on a newly redesigned ESPN App that will also offer news and highlights as well as access to ESPN
networks. What will ESPN Plus carry?
ESPN Plus subscribers will get access to thousands live events a year: baseball,
ice hockey, golf and tennis, as well as college sports, all from ESPN's existing inventory of sports programming.
That is expected to mean that extra content now available digitally on
ESPN3 for free if you subscribe to an ESPN network will move to ESPN Plus, which you will have to pay for. Soccer content recently on ESPN3 has included the English Championship and UEFA futsal
championships. In the fall, ESPN3 has carried lots of college soccer.
A deal with 21st Century Fox, if approved, would give ESPN ownership of 22 regional sports networks now under Fox
Sports' umbrella and expand the inventory of sports content available for ESPN Plus. That would not impact the MLS arrangement since some of those regional sports networks carry the local packages of
some MLS teams.