ESPN may finally offer a cord-cutting internet TV service…but only for cricket

Potential subscribers in Brooklyn.
Potential subscribers in Brooklyn.
Image: AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews
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An ESPN internet-only service that doesn’t require a login from your expensive cable subscription—and lots of channels you don’t want—might soon be be available in the US. But there is a catch. It will, if reports are accurate, involve a sport that many Americans do not watch or understand: cricket.

That’s the conclusion to be drawn from a scoop by Re/Code’s Peter Kafka today. According to his report, ESPN is planning an online service for the Cricket World Cup, which will be held in Australia and New Zealand from mid-February and run for about six weeks.

A spokesperson for ESPN told Quartz via email that there is “nothing definitive at the moment,” and that speculation about the service is “a bit premature.” Which is kind of what you’d expect them to say. In any case, there are plenty of reasons why such a service would make perfect sense.

Cricket has for a long time now, been consistently among the highest rated sports on WatchESPN, the network’s existing online service for people with cable subscriptions. The sports behemoth has previously said it thinks there are 30 million cricket fans in the US (presumably mainly among the Indian/British/Caribbean American communities), who are typically above average in terms of income and education.

ESPN actually aired a high-profile cricket match, live on one of its biggest and most widely distributed cable channels, ESPN2, back in April. (It is hard to imagine them doing the same for the Cricket World Cup, since the matches in the form of the game being played at the tournament last for about seven hours).

From a US TV industry perspective, the report is significant because it would mark the first so-called over-the-top service (OTT) from ESPN, which is majority owned and controlled by Disney. The entertainment and theme parks behemoth insists it is committed to the cable bundle (it operates many other cable channels besides ESPN) But there are signs ESPN could soon offer similar products for more sports more popular in the US, such as basketball and soccer. Cricket could be the perfect training ground.