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ESPN+ won’t help you watch more Syracuse games... yet

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Don’t go purchasing the new streaming service to watch more Orange... because they won’t be there.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-Midwest Regional-Syracuse vs Duke Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports

It’s likely you’ve seen the official announcement from ESPN by now. The new streaming service, ESPN+, will be available come April 12 for $4.99 per month (or $49 annually up front) and promises to feature thousands of live sporting events.

That sounds awesome, clearly, though there’s much more to it than just more sports.

For one, it’s not a substitute for an ESPN subscription. ESPN+ doesn’t feature any of the network’s major properties like the NFL, NBA, ACC, SEC, Big Ten, Pac-12 or Big 12 games. What it does include access to:

  • MLB games (one per week), plus the option to add the full MLB.TV catalog for $24.99
  • NHL games (one per week), plus the option to add the full NHL catalog for a TBD price come the 2018-19 season
  • Over 250 out-of-market MLS games, plus Chicago Fire in-market games
  • America East, Atlantic Sun, Big South, Big West, Horizon, Ivy League, MAAC, MAC, MEAC, Missouri Valley, NEC, Southern Conference, Southland, Summit League, Sun Belt and WAC games of all sports -- from football to basketball, lacrosse, swimming and more.
  • Top Rank Boxing, PGA Tour Golf, Grand Slam Tennis, rugby and cricket

So if any of those things are on your list of what you like to watch, by all means, purchase ESPN+. I’m considering doing so myself, just because I do like to watch a decent amount of MAC and Sun Belt football during the fall.

But if the Syracuse Orange are your lone prerogative, I wouldn’t -- yet. Though that doesn’t mean the ESPN+ model is without Syracuse and the ACC forever.

For right now, this looks like a market test. Bundle as much niche content as possible, and see if/what people will pay. Compare how many of those folks are also ESPN subscribers, versus audiences that see this as their lone connection to ESPN programming. Then, eventually, offer up a different way to subscribe to ESPN that includes core programming (let’s assume what would usually appear on ESPN and maybe ESPN2), and then pay-per-view model for the rest (like ESPN+).

Should ESPN pursue this model, it would have direct implications for Syracuse and the ACC, obviously. Not every Syracuse game appears on ESPN or ESPN2, and the ACC Network is set to be its own thing. ESPN and the ACC have said that the ACC Network will have linear TV pick-up and not be relegated to its current digital-only status. However, you have to wonder how much that network, the SEC Network, Longhorn Network and even ESPNU will remain part of some core subscription package for ESPN, versus elected channels/programming options to add onto the base for an additional cost.

NCAA Football: Boston College at Syracuse Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

This spits in the face of how the ESPN bundle has worked up until recently, with new networks automatically included at a cost to cable/satellite providers (and then the consumer, as a result). But it’s probably closer to how BAMTech, which ESPN parent company Disney has had a majority ownership stake in since last year, would like to deliver digital content going forward.

BAMTech began with the premise that you’d pay more to follow the team or league you’ll actually watch. Well, this ESPN+ launch is a test balloon, to be followed by much larger (audience-wise) and more specific balloons afterward. They want to see how much you’ll pay for this massive group of lesser content and if you’re willing to actually stream it. Then, once current contracts are up, they’ll start un-bundling the other content from the core ESPN package.

Perhaps this ends up a more lucrative venture long-term than just continually shoving everything into one cable package. With subscriber losses piling up in recent years due to the larger cord-cutting trend, ESPN needs to (and does) make more money per subscriber than any other network. There’s a chance they’d find less revenue from this sort of piecemeal model. But there’s also a chance they’d make significantly more.

NCAA Football: Houston at Southern Methodist Ray Carlin-USA TODAY Sports

For a casual sports fan, having ESPN for a low rate (say $15 per month) is much more palatable than needing to shell out hundreds for a cable/satellite package that includes the family of networks -- most of which you rarely watch.

On top of those viewers, they’ll get the diehards and most of us here; the ones that are willing to pay another $5 per month for the ACC Network, $5 for ESPNU and maybe $5 for the SEC Network too. They could also bundle the whole damn thing (ESPN, ESPN2, ESPNU, ACCN, SECN, LHN, ESPNClassic, ESPN+) for some rate like $35-40 per month. Even with the slight discount there, they’d still make plenty on the deal while also delivering you the content you’re specifically looking for.

This is all conjecture, sure. However, it’s the way TV consumption is headed. With Disney’s buy of many of the Fox Sports regional networks (which previously housed ACC Network content), there’s more infrastructure than ever for ESPN to deliver high-quality broadcasts of just about any sporting event they have rights to. That potential may not be realized right away for fans of power conference teams — though it’s still worth being prepared for what’s coming in the near future.