If you spent enough time on Twitter or Facebook last week, you would probably come to find out that the newest ESPN and Big 12 partnership, “Big 12 Now” on ESPN+, isn’t exactly popular with fans across the conference.
Announced in the Spring of 2019, the partnership between the athletic conference and ESPN includes “hundreds of additional Big 12 sports events annually,” according to their website. Fans needed the streaming service to watch each of Kansas’ first two contests in Big 12 play – a home game against West Virginia on January 4, and an ensuing road game against Iowa State four days later.. ESPN+ costs $4.99 per month or $49.99 a year. With digital media companies shifting to streaming, mobile access to more conference games seems great, right? Sure, but there are a few major flaws with this service, and it isn’t the price alone that is upsetting Kansas fans.
Pricey cable contracts and a host of streaming platforms are oftentimes a hassle for consumers. Shopping for the cable packages you want without paying for the things you don’t need can be extremely difficult. It is even harder today when production companies get into disputes with the cable providers, sometimes even alienating channels from consumers over disagreements. The fact of the matter is that most television providers and streaming platforms, (like Youtube TV or Sling) carry the family of ESPN channels. I know that on a typical Wednesday night, I can flip to channel 143 (ESPN2), and have there be a basketball game on. When you add a service like ESPN+ into the mix, which is not a channel included in most packages, suddenly that expensive cable bill is coupled with another bill. Every single Big 12 basketball game was formerly available on those cable networks (and on the WatchESPN app). There was no additional charge to stream the games – only a log-in to the customer’s cable provider on the app.
I get it, $4.99 a month for most people is a simple sacrifice in the budget; maybe that is one fewer coffee in that four-week period. But that’s not the case for everyone. There are most certainly fans who watch Kansas basketball who are on a fixed income and can’t possibly work a streaming payment into their bill. From an economics standpoint, the price is relatively fair for consumers. But that’s not the point. Fans wanting to watch their beloved Jayhawks should not have to fork out more money for Big 12 games that could easily be on the family of ESPN channels, which broadcast most of the Jayhawks’ other 30 or so pre-NCAA games.
Not everyone is enticed by the “thousands of live events” available, they just want to see Kansas play. Included in those thousands of events are soccer, tennis, boxing and other sporting events that an older KU fan is probably not interested in. You’re telling me that Kansas and West Virginia, two of the top 20 teams in college basketball, should be put on an exclusive streaming platform while Iowa State is playing TCU on ESPNU? I don’t think so. Big 12 Now isn’t making it any easier to watch the conference games. It’s making it more confusing.
“171,000 people in Kansas don’t have any wired internet providers available where they live.”Source: broadbandnow.com
While moving premiere games to ESPN+ makes absolutely no sense, that isn’t the only issue with the service. Since ESPN+ is only readily available on electronic devices, fast broadband internet access is integral in a smooth, clear stream. According to internet provider statistics provided by Broadband Now, Kansas is the 37th most connected state to high speed broadband internet access. West Virginia, another market of the Big 12 Now product, sits at 47th. Fast, high-speed internet is still not readily available in many rural parts of Kansas. ESPN+ is recommended to need 25+ mbps speeds to function properly. Only 85% of the state has access to those speeds, and that is just the bare minimum required. From BroadcastNow research: “171,000 people in Kansas don’t have any wired internet providers available where they live.” In fact, not a single home in Meade County (southwest Kansas) has access to those broadband internet speeds. In West Virginia, 27% of the entire state has access to just one provider or less. So if you’re having no latency issues and you live in say, Johnson or Douglas county, that might not be the same for your relatives who live in western Kansas. This isn’t New York City, and those connectivity differences have to be recognized in the Midwest.
Not everyone is enticed by the ‘thousands of live events’ available, they just want to see Kansas play.
It may seem like this is a lot of griping over a new sports streaming service, but the fact of the matter is clear: an exclusive streaming platform is only for the Big 12, and ESPN, to make more money off of you. If you’re already paying for Netflix, for the cable, for the internet, it’s another fee thrown on top. It means having to go buy an HDMI cable so you can project it on your non-smart TV to avoid watching it on your cell phone. It means 10 times a season (not even including football), you have to hope the internet speeds are working fast enough to watch the game. It means a five-star prospect is considering a different school because said team doesn’t have that national, television exposure anymore. Yes, Kansas fans will do anything they can to watch their team compete, and ESPN knows that. ESPN+ was never introduced for your convenience.
Streaming is the future, absolutely. And I had no issues streaming games on WatchESPN in the past. It’s not about streaming, it is more than that. It is already hard enough to attend a sporting event without paying a couple hundred dollars to see your team play, and it shouldn’t be all about nickel-and-diming when you want to sit back at home and watch the game after a long day at work. It’s extremely hard to see big companies making collegiate sports more expensive, while the student athletes don’t see a single lick of the hefty profits. You can be sure that those executives at the Big 12 office are, though.
A solution? Just put the games on the TV channels in the ESPN family of networks, like they did for the past several years. Simultaneously stream the games on WatchESPN for those who prefer to watch that way, but include it in the customer’s already-pricey cable bill.
Oh, and Mr. Long,
The phrase “It’s only $4.99 to watch the game!” could be the difference in another Williams Fund donation, so I’d chose your words carefully.