ESPN+ Is Hitting Its Best Customers With a 43% Tax in a ‘Mickey Mouse’ Move

A sports fan subscribing to ESPN+ can start this Saturday at 5:10 a.m. ET with Porsche Supercup Series racing from France, pick up PGA Tour action from Minnesota at 8 a.m., and flip over to European soccer friendlies an hour after that. Then, there’s an MMA fight at noon, a Cleveland Guardians-Chicago White Sox game at 1:10 p.m., the rest of the golf tournament, and a selection of 12 MLS contests into the early hours of Sunday.

It’s quite a lineup and representative of the variety of options throughout the year. With choices like that, though, who’s going to find time to flip over to Disney+ or Hulu for movies or sitcoms?

Well, ESPN’s parent company is trying to push you into trying.

The cost of ESPN+ rises from $6.99 to $9.99 in August

Photo illustration of the ESPN+ logo. Pavlo Gonchar/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images
Photo illustration of the ESPN+ logo. Pavlo Gonchar/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Disney, a media giant built upon animated characters including Mickey Mouse, is raising the price for ESPN+ by 43% on Aug. 23 even as consumers wrestle with an inflation rate hitting a 40-year high. The subscription price climbs from $6.99 a month to $9.99. The annual discount rate moves from $69.99 to $99.99. The most recent price increases were by $1 a month in August 2020 and again in August 2021.

Interestingly, the sports outlet’s parent company is leaving the price of a popular bundling option unchanged. Subscribers to the Disney+/ESPN+/Hulu package will continue to pay $13.99 a month.

Disney does not break out its subscription numbers in a way that differentiates bundle subscribers from those paying for individual streaming services, but Sports Business Journal reports that ESPN+ has more than 22 million U.S. customers. By moving the sports service’s price closer to the rate for the bundle, the parent company is obviously aiming to beef up the Disney+ footprint.

However, it’s a substantial hit to the wallet for sports fans who don’t want other services, and it’s particularly pricey for those who subscribe primarily for exclusive written content on the ESPN website.

ESPN+ continues to expand its offerings

ESPN’s cable networks had been lukewarm about hockey until ESPN+ scored the rights to the old NHL.TV out-of-market package, encompassing more than 1,000 games, before last season. The sport now gets more coverage on SportsCenter, too.

It was the latest big acquisition and complements live access to tennis tournaments, including Wimbledon; numerous international soccer leagues, including Serie A; extensive NCAA football and basketball schedules; PGA Tour events; and UFC cards.

According to CNBC, Disney’s renewal of its NFL package allows it to simulcast Monday Night Football on ESPN+, which potentially cushions the blow as cable and satellite TV customers continue to “cut the cord.”

The impressive growth in offerings comes with a price. According to Bloomberg.com, programming and production costs at ESPN+ jumped 48%, to $454 million in the quarter that ended in April. Disney said its various streaming services lost $887 million in that period.

The changing nature of home viewing

Generations of cable and satellite television customers complained that one-size-fits-all plans forced them to pay for multiple channels that they never watched. Non-sports fans frequently cited the lineup of ESPN channels as a prime example.

The advent of high-speed internet has brought about the streaming era, with Netflix, YouTube TV, and Amazon Prime among the biggest players. It’s offered options to those who’ve dropped cable or satellite service, but the customization literally comes at a price, particularly for rabid sports fans.

Variety and others cited sports-heavy streaming services including:

  • Boxing-centric DAZN charges $19.99 monthly.
  • The NESN regional network is charging $29.99 for Boston Red Sox and Bruins games.
  • Bally Sports+, a system of regional networks formerly operated by Fox Sports, charges $19.99 for packages of local pro and college sports.
  • And many leagues’ own streaming services, such as NBA League Pass, cost anywhere from $14.99 to $29.99 per month.

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