The price hike is only being applied to ESPN Plus’ monthly fee, according to internal documents viewed by The Verge. The annual price of $49.99 will remain untouched. Existing monthly subscribers can keep the $4.99 subscription fee for a period of one year before being switched to the $5.99 price point, documents show. Disney declined to comment to The Verge.
ESPN Plus launched in April 2018, carrying an assortment of college games and various sports leagues, albeit none of the big ones like NFL or NBA games. ESPN Plus has also carried UFC title matches, which have performed well for the company. The app is housed in Disney’s main ESPN app.
Like Disney Plus and Hulu, ESPN Plus is a core pillar of Disney’s streaming strategy. The app had 2.2 million subscribers in March 2019, but that number grew to 7.9 million by March 2020. The growth came after Disney launched a $12.99-a-month bundle that included ESPN Plus, Hulu, and Disney Plus. The bundle price will not be affected by the ESPN Plus monthly price hike, either.
Disney’s executive chairman Bob Iger told Ringer’s Bill Simmons last year that while ESPN Plus is a good add-on strategy for people who already pay for ESPN, and it’s “growing nicely,” the actual service is still “relatively small.” At the time, Iger said because the traditional ESPN network via linear pay TV was “still delivering a fair amount of profitability to ESPN,” making the pivot to a streaming-exclusive world was difficult. Not to mention that pivoting to a streaming-exclusive strategy would require agreements with various sports leagues, who are still firmly in the land of pay TV.
It’s unclear why Disney is hiking the price up now, especially considering sports are still largely not being played. The NBA and MLB are set to return in the coming days and weeks, but it’s unclear if any of those games will stream on ESPN Plus.