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ESPN mulls OTT service for Major League Soccer

US sports network ESPN is mulling a plan to provide access to US Major League Soccer coverage over the web without the usual requirement for viewers to prove they have an existing pay TV subscription with an established distributor.

In comments reported by Reuters, ESPN president and Disney Media Networks co-chairman John Skipper told an event in Bristol, Connecticut that the company was considering the launch of a direct-to-consumer offering, but that plans were still at an early stage.

Skipper said that any new offering would be centred on content that is not specifically offered as part of the programmer’s existing pay TV deals with US distributors, and he cited Major League Soccer as a possible candidate.

Earlier this month, ESPN, Fox and Univision signed a new eight-year deal with the Soccer United Marketing, which controls the rights, giving the sports network access to English-language rights to up to 10 matches of the US national teams’ World Cup qualifiying matches, with ESPN2 to air 34 regular season matches, six playoff matches, the MLS All Star game and the MLS Cup in alternating seasons. The 34 regular matches will also run on ESPN Deportes with Spanish commentary.

As part of the deal, ESPN3 will have the rights to carry a number of MLS matches outside the teams home markets, and it is to this package that ESPN has secured additional digital rights.

ESPN said at the time of the deal that it “may explore alternative distribution models for the out-of-home package” and Skipper highlighted that the package included “enhanced digital rights” that “will benefit all our platforms”.

In his remarks at the Connecticut event, Skipper said that ESPN remained committed to its current authenticated business model, meaning that subscribers have to sign up to a pay TV subscription for access to the group’s channels and Watch ESPN app, but said that the company is also thinking about new ways to deliver additional revenue.

According to a source cited by Reuters, ESPN may make US soccer available through its ESPN3 app.