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Big Sky Conference moves media rights to ESPN; most games set for ESPN+ streaming platform

By Brett Hein standard-Examiner - | Jun 9, 2021

The Big Sky Conference and ESPN announced Wednesday a new media rights agreement between the organizations that will anchor the Big Sky’s game streams to the ESPN+ subscription service.

The new deal moves the conference away from its streaming offerings on Pluto TV platform, which gave viewers free access to Big Sky games but drew ire from fans for its sometimes unreliable ability to offer a buffer-free, glitch-free sports viewing experience.

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All home games and conference games for Big Sky schools that previously streamed on Pluto TV in football, men’s basketball, women’s basketball, volleyball, women’s soccer and softball will now stream on ESPN+, which is available online at watchespn.com and through the ESPN mobile, smart TV and streaming device apps.

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That is except for a new addition to the Big Sky/ESPN TV portfolio which will add two Big Sky football games and one men’s basketball game to ESPNU each season.

The championship game for the men’s basketball tournament will continue to air on an ESPN TV network. Recently, this has been on ESPNU but Wednesday’s announcement left open the possibility for it to air on another ESPN network.

The championship game of the women’s basketball tournament will also air on an ESPN TV network, marking the first time in league history that title game will appear on a national TV network.

“This landmark agreement for the Big Sky and our membership rightfully aligns the nation’s preeminent FCS conference with the strongest media brand in sports,” Big Sky Commissioner Tom Wistrcill said in a news release. “We are absolutely thrilled to join the ESPN family and deliver an elevated viewing experience with hundreds of Big Sky contests on ESPN+ each year.

“In addition, the numerous linear opportunities on ESPN networks now available to us is unprecedented among our peers, and yet another way that we will enhance the brand of the Big Sky.”

An ESPN+ subscription costs $5.99 per month or $59.99 per year. Some viewers may already have access to ESPN+ through existing subscriptions for other products.

ESPN+ is also available in a bundle with subscriptions to Disney+ and ad-supported Hulu, which costs $13.99 per month. Subscribers to the other platforms can convert existing subscriptions to the bundle to add ESPN+.

The move is a change for die-hard Big Sky fans who have grown accustomed to free online offerings even predating Pluto TV, but the cost is expected to provide a more reliable user experience across devices.

The new deal begins for the 2021-22 school year. The first Big Sky programming slated to stream on ESPN+ is its football kickoff media event, scheduled for July 26.


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