In 2016, the America East (AE) reached a landmark contract extension with ESPN. A wide array of the conference’s sporting events, including all men’s and women’s basketball games, were to be broadcast on ESPN3, ESPN’s online streaming platform, which is available to all of its cable subscribers. However, changes are on the horizon for the way fans watch their teams play.
Last April, ESPN introduced ESPN+, its new stand-alone streaming service. Costing $4.99 per month or $49.99 per year, it is available to anyone, with or without a cable subscription. Beginning immediately, select AE games were moved to the new platform.
Presently, Binghamton streams all men’s and women’s basketball, soccer, lacrosse and select wrestling events on ESPN platforms. Coverage is expanding to include baseball, softball and volleyball in the near future. It is up to ESPN to decide which games air on which platform.
After its launch last spring, all lacrosse games shifted to ESPN+, and soccer games this season are being split between ESPN+ and ESPN3.
Basketball is the centerpiece of the AE’s partnership with ESPN, and the launch of ESPN+ took place after the season concluded, so many fans may not have noticed the changes taking place. No official decision has been reached regarding where basketball will be streamed, but the games will likely be split or air entirely on ESPN+.
Matt Bourque, the AE senior associate commissioner, handles broadcast media and partnerships for the AE. He is optimistic that these changes will only further the conference’s relationship with ESPN and its fans.
“America East has enjoyed its partnership with ESPN for more than 30 years and that relationship has only intensified with new digital options over the past few years,” Bourque said. “We are all confident that ESPN has the best streaming technology in sports and will continue that development in order to deliver content to fans, who expect quality across all platforms and devices.”
All AE schools produce their broadcasts for ESPN in-house, with students making up the majority of the production crew. Jeremy Donovan, Binghamton’s athletics video production and multimedia coordinator, oversees the department’s ESPN broadcasts.
“On our end, [the change is] minimal,” Donovan said. “The only difference is a few changes in graphics and a different phone number to call. My other concern was what this meant for our viewership and our own access to the ESPN archives.”
The act of having to pay for something that was once free could discourage viewers from subscribing to ESPN+. It is also a concern for schools with smaller fan bases, like those in the AE, that fans will not be willing to pay to watch their teams play. However, Bourque believes that ESPN+ is well-equipped to serve the present and future needs of AE fans.
“I think ESPN has found a great price point for ESPN+ so that it is less than $5 a month and less than $50 a year,” Bourque said. “We are excited that ESPN+ is available to those who may have eliminated, reduced or never had a cable subscription.”
As the number of cord-cutters increases, more sports fans are looking for online alternatives to watch their teams play. Turner Sports recently announced B/R Live — a similar service to ESPN+ — which it will use to broadcast most of its UEFA Champions League coverage this upcoming season.
“Fans who watched the America East Women’s Lacrosse Championship and the America East Baseball Championship on ESPN+ were impressed with the ease of accessing games,” Bourque said. “Many took advantage of the free trial to learn more about the many offerings on ESPN+.”
In addition to a variety of college sports, ESPN+ includes live coverage of Major League Soccer, Canadian football and UFC, among others. It also provides several original series, including “Detail,” a basketball analysis show hosted by future NBA Hall of Famer Kobe Bryant.
“It’s still great exposure for the conference and the University, and those four letters, ESPN, still carry a lot of weight in the sports entertainment industry no matter what number, word or symbol follows them,” Donovan said.