ESPN Plus Review
Whether ESPN Plus represents good value is entirely in the eye of the beholder. For the biggest sports nuts, there’s an admirable amount to watch, but the biggest ESPN games are rarely found on this standalone service. It’s a ‘best of rest’ platform that’ll feels unessential to most, but a must-have for true diehards. However, the recent price hike and lack of 4K is hard to stomach.
- Big time live sport from around the world
- 30-for-30 documentaries are great
- A must for UFC nuts
- August 2022 price hike is insultingly high
- No 4K, HDR, or Dolby Atmos
- Biggest events still exclusive to regular ESPN
- Exclusive live sports Access to games and events you won’t find elsewhere in the United States
- Original contentESPN Plus is the home of ESPN’s acclaimed 30-for-30 series and other ESPN Films
- Apple SharePlay supportYou can watch with friends via the FaceTime-powered SharePlay feature
ESPN Plus is a difficult one to place. A lot of the content used to be on the standard ESPN networks, available as part of a traditional pay TV subscription. However, Disney-owned ESPN has siphoned that into a streaming service, while bulking up the proposition with even more live sports.
There’s golf from the PGA tour, live Major League baseball, football from La Liga in Spain, German Bundesliga and English domestic cup competitions. There’s UFC: boxing from Top Rank, tennis majors and more. It also delves into non-mainstream sports like Lacrosse and various junior sports from around the world.
There’s loads of on-demand content too, like the prestigious 30-for-30 documentary series, and access to premium written content from ESPN’s top reporters and ‘Insiders’.
On the one hand it’s an excellent option for cord cutters. It offers bountiful access to live sports at an affordable fee. It’s even better value if you bundle up with Disney Plus and Hulu. However, it can be quite confusing deciphering what’s on ESPN Plus and regular ESPN networks. For example, ESPN has the rights to Formula 1 but it’s not on ESPN Plus. NFL Monday Night Football is on ESPN, but not on ESPN Plus.
Indeed, there’s plenty more stuff you’ll think there is access to, but don’t unless you have an ESPN subscription through a pay TV provider. I’ll get into this more later.
Overall, ESPN will have more than a few essentials for sports nuts, but is that enough to justify holding a subscription all year round? Let’s delve in…
- USARRP: $9.99
ESPN Plus is only available in the United States as an over-the-top streaming service. Content on ESPN Plus is not broadcast as part of any TV package that includes ESPN either. As of August 2022, ESPN has put the price up to $9.99 a month/$99.99 a year. That’s a significant 43% rise from $6.99 / $69.99.
You can also get it as part of ‘The Disney bundle’, which includes Disney Plus, ESPN Plus and Hulu (with ads). That costs $13.99 a month. With Hulu (no-ads) it’s $19.99. It’s almost a no-brainer given the price hike for standalone ESPN Plus.
- ESPN Plus content is delivered via the main ESPN app
- Content also appears within the Hulu app
As you’d expect from a Disney company, the app is widely available on the major platforms with some smart TV exceptions (like LG). However, if you’re looking for a dedicated ESPN Plus app, you won’t find it. Instead, you go through the main ESPN app. That confusion I mentioned earlier? This is part of it and I’m not sure two separate apps is the way to go either.
As for the ESPN app, you can find it on Android (Phone, tablet, Android/Google TV, Chromecast). There’s Amazon Fire TV and tablet, iOS, both PlayStation 4 and 5 along with Xbox One and Series S and X consoles.
There’s support for Facebook products including Portal (for some reason) and Oculus Go. Other streamers and TVs are covered by Roku players and TVs, Samsung Smart TVs and Xfinity XClass, Flex and X1 devices.
- Live and upcoming content is easy to find
- Interesting curated collections
- Access to exclusive articles on mobile
If you’re a subscriber to ESPN+ but don’t have full fat ESPN, the best place to start is the dedicated ESPN+ tab. This will show you what’s live now, complete with live coverage within the thumbnail image. At the time of review for instance, it was Taipei vs Mexico in Junior League baseball, to give you an idea of the depth of coverage available.
Scroll down to see what’s live and upcoming, spotlighted documentary films, or to narrow down content to individual sports, leagues and conferences. This is often the easiest way to find what you want.
There are also curated collections, such as the topical “best of Serena Williams”, and quick access to magazine shows like ESPN FC and Fantasy Field Pass. On mobile, an ‘Articles’ tab provides access the exclusive written content you get as part of your ESPN+ subscription.
If you have access to ESPN you log in through your TV provider (YouTube TV, Xfinity, etc.). If you also have an ESPN Plus account you sign-up and log in via that ESPN Plus account (which can also be your Disney+ login if you bought the bundle. Confusing!) to access the full quota of live and on demand sports television.
If you do have access to both ESPN and ESPN+, the Watch tab is your friend. You’ll be able to watch what’s on the suite of ESPN channels live and on-demand, as well as all of the ESPN Plus content, which is marked appropriately. There is a schedule button that shows you precisely what is on ESPN Plus too.
If you attempt to access Plus-marked content without a sub, and you’ll be directed to log-in and sign-up. Additional content, like UFC PPVs, can be purchased within the app.
If you’re subscribed to the Disney bundle that includes ESPN+ and Hulu, you’ll also see your ESPN content within the Hulu app (below), which sometimes proves handy if you’re trying to decide between the game or catching up on Masterchef.
- Basic feature set
- Offline downloads only for ESPN films and series
So, the major news here is the absence of 4K or HDR visuals. Bummer.
The maximum streaming resolution for ESPN Plus is Full HD with a maximum of 60 frames per second. The absence of 4K is mainly attributable to ESPN rarely shooting sporting events in 4K.
However, what it does shoot isn’t here. There are a few college football and basketball games the company airs in 4K but they’re a) not available in ESPN Plus and b) not available in the ESPN app at all. Even the feeds it acquires, like the BBC’s Wimbledon coverage broadcast in 4K HLG in the UK isn’t available at the max resolution.
In fact, the feature-set is pretty sparse compared to most streaming services I’ve reviewed. You can’t bookmark upcoming events, you can’t join live event from the start and there’s no recording facility. Fancy a watch party with all your friends? You’ll need to do it through Apple’s FaceTime-based SharePlay. However, it only works for select events and ESPN Plus Originals.
There is access to offline downloads for sporting events, but there are on-demand broadcasts from completed games. This is quite handy for MLB games on ESPN Plus for example, as you can choose the home or away team’s broadcast feed or (where available) the Spanish language commentary.
Offline downloads are restricted to ESPN series and films. However, considering that includes the mighty 30-for-30 collection, there’s plenty here to get you through a long plane ride.
- Massive range of sports with something for most fans
- No access to the ‘crown jewels’ of US sport
- Every La Liga game lives here, home of the FA Cup
So, as this is a review of the ESPN Plus streaming service and not a review of the ESPN app I’m going to focus on library of sports available to Plus subscribers:
Baseball is MLB (a few games a week), NCAA and Little League. American football comes with coverage of NCAA college football, the Canadian Football League, the NFL magazine shows (no Monday Night Football).
Basketball is covered WNBA, NCAA, high school, NBA G League, The Basketball tournament, FIBA events, NBA magazine shows. For MMA you get UFC – big events are extra on PPV, although there is some on demand access to re-air of PPC events and selected fights
For Golf there are the Live PGA tour events, selected coverage of majors like the PGA Championship and the Masters. Football (or Soccer) is filled with Bundesliga, La Liga, English domestic cups and the EFL Championship, MLS and USL, NCAA (college), the Australian FFA Cup and Liga Mx.
Tennis coverage stretches to select and on-demand/archive coverage from the US Open, Wimbledon and the Australian Open. For hockey there are Live NHL games and NCAA field hockey; Cricket is some test match cricket, and IPL (Indian Premier League); boxing features Live events from Top Rank promotions and on-demand access to classic fights. Where motorsport is concerned there is Formula 2 and 3.
There’s also live coverage of sports like softball, lacrosse, polo, track and field, and equestrian.
However, it’s important to point out you won’t get access to nationally televised NBA, NFL or MLB games unless you also have access to the ESPN TV channels through your pay TV provider. Same goes for Formula 1 racing. What it does do, is add value to some tournaments, though. For example, US Open tennis qualifying is available, while the main draw sits on ESPN.
- No 4K, HDR or Dolby Atmos
The ESPN app works just fine. There’s nothing particularly special about it, but performance is reliable and there were no bugs of note during testing. ESPN only specifies “high speed internet” for streaming and, as there’s no 4K, I didn’t suffer from buffering of intermittent playback during our tests on an iPad 8th-Gen or the Apple TV app connected to a LG C1 OLED.
The playback experience is pretty forgettable on iPad, Apple TV and the web. There are pause and rewind/forward options as well as casting options, closed captions, and a picture-in-picture mode to enable you to watch the video while browsing elsewhere. That’s about it.
Should you buy it?
If you’re the fan of La Liga, for instance, or just have to watch the FA Cup, ESPN Plus is almost essential. If you’re obsessed with UFC, you need it even to buy the PPVs. It’s also a great option if you want access to some top sport, without needing cable TV and regular ESPN. If you’re a complete sports nut that needs everything, then you’ll find a lot of it here. While the recent price hike stings, the Disney bundle makes ESPN Plus almost free if you watch Disney Plus and Hulu anyway.
If you’re happy with ESPN/ABCs regular offering of nationally televised top sports, you won’t necessarily get much more from ESPN+. There’s a lot of competition for the streaming dollar and, even to a sports nut like me, it feels expendable.
I have mixed feelings about ESPN+. On one hand I love that if gives me access to English football’s FA Cup and Carabou Cup games. On the other, I can go weeks without watching delving in because most of the box office events are on standard ESPN, not here. It’s just those one or two things that keep me subscribing. The complete absence of 4K HDR is a bit galling in 2022.
How we test
We test every video streaming service we review thoroughly over an extended period of time. We use industry standard tests to compare features properly. We’ll always tell you what we find. We never, ever, accept money to review a product.
Find out more about how we test in our ethics policy.
Tested on a 2021 Ultra HD TV
Tested with mobile apps and smart TV systems
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No. Key, nationally televised content like NFL games, is only available through a TV subscription
No. Think of this as an add-on service to complement the output from the main ESPN networks. There is some overlap, but not much
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