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Our City: Exploring the New MLS Deal With ESPN+

Earlier this month, ESPN launched its new streaming service, ESPN+. The platform is the new home for most MLS games online, but does it give supporters everything we’re looking for?

MLS: Playoffs-Los Angeles Galaxy at Colorado Rapids Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Our City is a weekly column devoted to looking at the culture surrounding Orlando City, Major League Soccer, and the American soccer landscape.

Like many of you in the MLS community, I began this weekend to navigate the new MLS streaming host, ESPN+. On the surface, nothing much has really changed as the league moves its games from its own MLS Live platform to the ESPN+ platform, but the price and the value of the ESPN+ app seem superior.

MLS Live was a costly venture for most of us, paying either $79.99 a year for the entire league, $69.99 for a single team, and $14.99 per month for the less cash-flush or committed.

ESPN+ runs $4.99 a month and $49 for the year. For that much-discounted price, you get not only all of MLS, but everything else on the sports channel’s new platform. I was pleasantly surprised to see my beloved Cardiff City’s game against Southampton offered up to me as I logged in yesterday afternoon for the first time. While I’m not a massive sports fan outside of MLS and Orlando City, I’m sure as time goes by I’ll enjoy other offerings from ESPN+.

There’s a catch though, for us cord cutters at least. ESPN+ is not ESPN or even WatchESPN. Meaning games broadcast on the main cable stations aren’t streamed on the ESPN+ service. According to a post on the official MLS website, the full replay will be available on the ESPN+ service 48 hours after the match. While that’s the same policy as MLS Live, it seems a bit silly that ESPN won’t let you stream their content either live or at least after the original live broadcast.

Replays of games that originally are broadcast on FOX, FS1, and Univision will reportedly be available on ESPN+ 48 hours after the match.

The official MLS website will have condensed replays of every game, no matter the broadcaster. For most fans of the league and for most games, these compact 20-minute games are all we really need to keep up with the league. Still, for Orlando City games, or compelling match-ups from the prior week, the replays have long been an enjoyable way to pass the week between games. Rewatching Orlando City games, even the bad ones, has helped me to really build an affinity for the team and an understanding of the players.

The deal could pay dividends for MLS by providing games on a platform that will be popular with dedicated sports fans who might choose to take a casual interest in MLS and boost the league’s overall national profile.

As a cord cutter who decided he didn’t want to use illegal streams anymore about five years ago, I applaud MLS and ESPN+ for this low cost and most complete service. It will seem that most weeks and in most situations I’ll be able to watch Orlando City games with my $4.99-a-month ESPN+ service, the $19.99 FOX Sports GO streaming service, and Twitter (for Univision games).

While workable, it’s also a bit chaotic trying to find games and not being able to stream everything. In a post-net neutrality world, I can imagine this will only become more chaotic as more subscription services and fees are added to the mix over time.

I’m still open-minded that the ESPN+ deal will be a good one for myself and other MLS supporters without cable television. The league would be wise to carefully navigate these waters, as young people are more often than not part of the cord-cutting culture that wants everything streaming on demand and will quickly move on to other leagues and sports if their local MLS club isn’t available online.

What’s your take? Are you a cord cutter? Are you happy with the deal or are you looking for something different? Are you loyal to cable and wondering what the problem even is?