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ESPN Plus Review: A Must-Have for Hockey and UFC Fans, but That's About It

The service raised its prices and lost its coverage of MLS, making it less appealing to sports fans.

In the past year, ESPN Plus has both raised its prices and lost an important content partner. ESPN Plus is currently the out-of-market streaming home of Major League Soccer, but will lose the league to Apple TV Plus when the current season concludes in November. Now, the service has just raised its prices to $10 a month or $100 a year, up from its old price of $7 a month and $70 a year. You can still subscribe to the Disney bundle, which also includes Hulu and Disney Plus, and remains unchanged at $14 a month. But no matter how you slice it, the price increase, coupled with the loss of MLS, lessens the appeal of the service.

6.8

ESPN Plus

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Like

  • Lots of live sports, including NHL and UFC
  • Tons of ESPN original content
  • Pick your favorite teams and have their content centered

Don't Like

  • Expensive without the Disney bundle
  • No live games from NFL or NBA
  • NHL games subject to local blackouts
  • Lacks watch list
  • Inconsistent "continue watching" section

But for many NHL and UFC fans, ESPN Plus is the best -- and in some cases, the only -- place to watch their favorite team or fighter on a regular basis. As a Washington Capitals hockey superfan living in Maine, I would be unable to watch more than a handful of my team's games during the regular season were it not for ESPN Plus. For many other fans, however, ESPN Plus is a useful add-on if you get it as part of a bundle, but not worth it for those who don't. 

ESPN Plus is the home of all out-of-market National Hockey League games, replacing the league-owned NHL.TV package at a much lower price. Fans like myself, who root for teams that aren't based where they currently live, need ESPN's streaming service to watch their team's action this season. The service won't be of much use, however, to fans of the home hockey team. Local games are blacked out on ESPN Plus so you'll need access to your regional sports network through cable or a live TV streaming service in order to watch them. 

The service is still compelling for some soccer and fighting fans. Despite losing its contract with MLS, ESPN Plus continues to offer a large collection of games from soccer leagues around the world, such as La Liga in Spain and the German Bundesliga. It also hosts exclusive UFC matches and events, including UFC Fight Night and pay-per-view championship bouts. Typically, high-profile UFC fights have an additional fee of $70 on top of the monthly cost of ESPN Plus.

ESPN Plus doesn't show live NFL or NBA games, however, and while its vast library of original programming is impressive, it's difficult to navigate. With prices now at $10 a month or $100, it's hard to justify the service as a stand-alone product for anyone other than die-hard fans of the sports it covers well. 

Disney has raised the prices of all of its individual streaming services, while keeping the price of the Disney bundle -- which includes ESPN Plus along with Hulu and Disney Plus -- steady at $14 for now, although it will introduce new options on Dec. 3. Anyone who wants two of Disney's services will save money by purchasing all three of them through this bundle. For those who find themselves with an ESPN Plus subscription this way, the service offers enough live sports and programming to keep casual fans entertained. 

ESPN vs. ESPN Plus

ESPN Plus is a stand-alone streaming service that's completely separate from the ESPN channel. I like to think of it as the side salad to ESPN's main dish. Additional content not offered on ESPN's main network includes those live NHL games, UFC combat events as well as some soccer. ESPN Plus also hosts a library of on-demand ESPN original content, including all of the critically acclaimed 30 for 30 sports documentary series. 

ESPN, on the other hand, is a television channel that is the home of sports, highlights and talk shows. It broadcasts MLB, NBA and NHL games, NFL Monday Night Football and NCAA college basketball and football, along with hit shows such as SportsCenter and Pardon the Interruption -- none of which are available on ESPN Plus. Right now the only way to get the ESPN channel is to subscribe to a cable or streaming package that offers it. The cheapest streaming service with the ESPN channel is Sling TV Orange at $35 a month.

Both ESPN and ESPN Plus content is accessible through the main ESPN app, which is available on all major streaming platforms, iOS, Android and ESPN's website. 

ESPN streaming service
Sarah Tew/CNET

What's on ESPN Plus?

In the fall and winter of 2022, it's basically hockey, European soccer and UFC. ESPN is the new home of the National Hockey League, with ESPN Plus taking over all of the NHL's out-of-market streaming services. Last season, the site also aired games from Russia's top hockey league, the KHL. It remains unclear if ESPN will continue show it, given Russia's invasion of Ukraine. Either way, the service recently agreed to air professional women's hockey through the Premier Hockey Federation and continues to offer NCAA hockey coverage, as well. All of this helps to make ESPN Plus a hockey lover's dream.

ESPN Plus also has a fair amount of international soccer, but not all. Not only does it air games from La Liga from Spain and Germany's Bundesliga, but it is also the home of some English football: the FA Cup, the Carabao Cup and the Community Shield, along with the EFL Championship -- which is the league below the Premier League. (It's worth mentioning that NBC has the rights to the English Premier League, some of which streams on Peacock, while CBS has the rights to the UEFA Champions League on its Paramount Plus streaming service.)

In 2019, ESPN Plus became the exclusive US carrier of all UFC pay-per-view events. This includes some matches for free as part of the ESPN Plus subscription. It's also where pay-per-view matches will live, usually for an extra fee. For new customers, ESPN sometimes offers bundles that include a discounted price on a year's subscription, as well as access to a PPV match. 

ESPN streaming service
Sarah Tew/CNET

ESPN Plus doesn't show any live NBA basketball or NFL football games, but it does offer some coverage of Wimbledon and the US Open. During the MLB baseball season, the service carries select out-of-market Major League baseball games as well as unlocking the MLB Archives of classic games. It also offers some NCAA football and basketball, as well as the Little League World Series for fans looking to watch up-and-coming athletes. 

ESPN Plus is also home to exclusive shows, such as Peyton's Places starring Peyton Manning, and the vast 30 for 30 library. Additionally, an ESPN Plus subscription removes the paywall on the ESPN website, giving you access to all online articles and reporting.

What's it like to use? 

The ESPN app houses all content for both the ESPN channel and the ESPN Plus add-on (there's no dedicated ESPN Plus app). If you subscribe to both, you'll need to sign in twice -- first with your ESPN cable login credentials and then again with your ESPN Plus account. If you have ESPN Plus, you can customize a list of favorite teams across sports and the app will automatically display the games, scores and programming right when you sign in. 

I tested the app on Roku as well as Google TV, Apple TV and iOS, and the experience was similar across streaming devices. Launching the ESPN app brings you to a Featured tab that lists a row of your team's live games-in-progress. A second Also Live row lists a mix of less popular live sports, as well as live highlight shows and talk shows. Scrolling farther down the screen displays a list of leagues, such as the NHL and La Liga. Clicking on these icons brings you to a hub of league-specific action including current live games, on-demand replays and on-demand league shows such as La Liga Live. There are also classic games available to watch on-demand and other league-related content. 

You can also browse content by sport. For example, clicking on Football will show you upcoming college football games on both ESPN and ESPN Plus, along with short highlights and clips from press conferences, or hot takes from Stephen A. Smith.

ESPN streaming service
Sarah Tew/CNET

The main homepage also has a row for Top Picks, Featured Episodes of top sports shows, including Debatable and Fantasy Focus Live, Upcoming games, as well as a section dedicated to a Films Spotlight, where you can find the 30 for 30 movies. 

Better for live sports than on-demand shows

While the ESPN App feels similar to other streaming services such as Netflix or Disney Plus, it lacks some important features that could have helped me better enjoy ESPN's large catalog of original programming. There's no way to add programs to a watch list so you can see them later. I found this to be a real problem when I was trying to remember a featured 30 for 30 episode from the day before that looked interesting, for example. 

Thankfully, my biggest gripe about the service has been at least partially rectified. The app now has a "continue watching" section on Roku and most other streaming devices, which allows you easily find your half-completed shows without searching for them again. It's currently not available on iOS and when you do get on other devices, it's buried multiple rows down on the home screen. 

I started watching the seven-part Derek Jeter documentary, The Captain, but had to stop midway through part two. When I went back to continue my episode, I could easily find it in the "continue watching" section on my Roku, as well as on my computer when I watched on a browser. However, when I tried to switch to my iPad, I found that the app had no memory that I'd even started the documentary. This inconsistency is frustrating and made me not want to even bother with ESPN's original programming when I knew I could only watch it on certain devices. 

ESPN streaming service
Sarah Tew/CNET

I found it much easier to watch live sports. I found the NHL viewing experience pleasant enough, but it was missing some key features from the NHL.TV days. You can still pick either the home or away feed of the games, but there's no multigame mode where you can watch a few games at once. Overlaid statistics are also gone, as are in-game goal replays. This is a bare-bones version of NHL.TV, meaning that you get to watch the games themselves and that's about it. 

All versions of the app have a setting that can hide current scores if you're looking to watch a replay and don't want to spoil the results. This works as a system setting across all sports, so you also won't see the latest soccer or basketball scores along with hockey and whatever else is playing that night. 

I liked ESPN Plus best on the iOS app for iPhone and iPad, where all aspects of ESPN coexist seamlessly as one. The app will automatically start playing video -- including your team's games if they are on -- and will also lead you directly to top news stories from the website. The ESPN Plus tab within the app also has an extra Articles section that takes you to a stream of the latest ESPN Plus-only online content. The iOS app does an admirable job blending news, exclusive written content and video in one place. The only downside is its lack of a "continue watching" section, which is frustrating. 

ESPN streaming service
Sarah Tew/CNET

Should you get ESPN Plus? 

ESPN Plus has unrivaled NHL coverage and is a must-have for hockey fans who care about global hockey and NHL as a whole. The same is true for UFC fans and for international soccer fans who are interested in competitions other than the Premier League and Champions League. I wouldn't recommend the $10 individual subscription to a casual sports fan, but if you subscribe to Hulu and Disney Plus already, getting ESPN Plus for "free" via the Disney bundle is worthwhile.