The news that North Dakota State’s football games were moving from ESPN3 to ESPN Plus was met with expected panic and anger yesterday as the evolving TV landscape has come to FCS football.
Let’s unpack what ESPN Plus is and how it’s going to affect NDSU fans and fans of the Missouri Valley.
ESPN Plus is a new pay for video service that is exclusive to the ESPN App, which you can download on your phone or can access on your laptop/desktop computer. It costs 4.99 per month or 50 dollars for the year. ESPN Plus is gobbling access to numerous college conferences and other sports. The advantage of ESPN Plus is that you don’t need a cable/satellite subscription like you do for ESPN3. So if you’ve cut the cord completely, ESPN Plus is right up your alley.
How does this affect NDSU fans? Yesterday, the Missouri Valley Football Conference unveiled its television package for 2018, which will have 13 games still on ESPN3 and 43 games on ESPN Plus. All of NDSU’s games will air on ESPN Plus in 2018, which is a complete change from past year’s which were available on ESPN3. So for viewers in-state or in northwestern Minnesota, your way of watching NDSU games will not change. But for out of state viewers, this will be a complete change.
I had numerous people ask me yesterday, “What about ESPN College Extra? I was able to watch NDSU’s games there on DirecTV or Dish Network.” That will not be an option either. NDSU’s Director of Broadcasting, Jeremy Jorgenson told me via email: “No games on College Extra, only on ESPN Plus.”
NDSU will have one game exclusive to ESPN Plus, the November 10th game at Missouri State, which is the “Game of the Week” broadcast from the Missouri Valley, part of the league’s eight game package. (Remember last year’s NDSU at Youngstown State game which was only on ESPN3) That will be the case in Springfield, the only way you’ll be able to watch the game that week is on ESPN Plus.
You may be wondering if NDSU or the Missouri Valley Football Conference will be getting any money from ESPN since the games are now going to be available on pay service. Valley Assistant Commissioner Mike Kern told me back in July: “At this time, no check coming to take any games on ESPN Plus.”
This isn’t exactly surprising on that front, many of these leagues are looking for exposure rather than getting TV rights money. It is disappointing though that nothing is coming back to the league on that front. Whether NDSU gets any money from ESPN Plus is a question I have not yet have answered, but I don’t believe that is the fact.
Lastly, what about the FCS Playoffs? Many remember the debacle that was ESPN3 when they took over exclusive coverage in 2011 and how many NDSU and Montana fans were outraged about that and how hard it was to access. I reached out to the WorldWide Leader to see if the first and second round games would be moving to ESPN Plus. Network sources tell me that “it’s safe to say we expect the FCS Playoffs to remain on ESPN3 and/or ESPN linear networks this year.” So it appears the FCS Playoffs will be status quo in 2018, but that doesn’t mean that will be the case going forward in 2019. Just something to keep an eye on.
This is the future folks. What do you think? For out of market viewers will you pay? ESPN is banking on you will.