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ESPN+ Scheduled to Launch April 12th

Jason Barrett

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After being discussed for over two years, ESPN+, not to be written as “ESPN Plus,” finally has a launch date. The new direct to consumer subscription streaming service, built by the former MLB owned company BAMTech, will be available to customers on April 12th.

“With ESPN+, fans have access to thousands more live games, world class original programs and on-demand sports content, all at a great price. They will get all of that as a part of a completely re-imagined, increasingly personalized ESPN App that provides easy, one-stop access to everything ESPN offers,” said new ESPN President James Pitaro in a press release.

For $4.99 per month ESPN subscribers will have access to ESPN+, with the option of purchasing the MLB.TV and NHL.TV out-of-market packages for an additional charge. The streaming service will offer thousands of live sporting events, many of them college games covering nearly two dozen conferences and a variety of sports including football, basketball, baseball, softball, soccer, track & field, gymnastics, swimming & diving, lacrosse, wrestling, volleyball, golf and more.

One daily game from both Major League Baseball and the NHL will be available during their regular seasons through the service. No NBA or NFL games will be offered as of now.

ESPN+ will debut less than a week after Turner’s new sports streaming service, Bleacher Report Live, which launches April 7th with Johnny Manziel’s debut in The Spring League as its first event. Bleacher Report Live will be free to use during its beginning months.

The future pay structure for B/R Live has not been announced, but the service will offer “flexible pricing options” including pay-per-game and even the option to purchase an in-progress event at a reduced rate.

Brandon Contes is a freelance writer for BSM. He can be found on Twitter @BrandonContes. To reach him by email click here.

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Indiana Fever-Chicago Sky Game on CBS is Most-Watched WNBA Game in 23 Years

The game peaked in viewership at nearly 3 million people tuning in.

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Screengrab from WNBA YouTube Page of Caitlin Clark and Angel Reese
Screengrab: WNBA on YouTube

This past weekend, CBS Sports carried the WNBA matchup between the Indiana Fever and the Chicago Sky. While neither team has gotten off to a great start this season, between them they have three of the top seven picks from this past year’s WNBA Draft. Of course, Indiana features Caitlin Clark from Iowa who was the No. 1 pick while Chicago has No. 3 overall pick Kamilla Cardoso from South Carolina and the No. 7 overall pick Angel Reese from LSU. The game lived up to the hype as it delivered an average audience of 2.252 million viewers, making it the most-watched WNBA game in 23 years.

The viewership for the game was up 225% over the comparable game window from last year with a game between the Phoenix Mercury and the New York Liberty. The game peaked in viewership at nearly 3 million people tuning in. On the streaming side, Paramount+ delivered its most-streamed WNBA game ever across households, minutes and average minute audience.

The Fever won the game 91-83. Caitlin Clark led the Fever with 23 points, and she also had 9 assists and eight rebounds.

CBS will look to draw an even bigger number when it next carries the Fever. That will be on July 6 when they host the New York Liberty. Currently the Fever have a 5-10 record on the season. New York has played 14 games so far on the season and has only lost two.

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Dick Vitale Is Cleared to Return to Work in the Fall

“The surgery that you had recently to reconstruct your vocal cords went beautifully.”

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Dick Vitale
Courtesy: Phil Ellsworth, ESPN Images

ESPN basketball analyst and Hall of Fame personality Dick Vitale is cancer-free after being diagnosed with vocal cord cancer, but he is still recovering from vocal cord surgery he had earlier in the year. Vitale received six weeks of radiation treatment and was hoping to return to basketball broadcasts last November, but the plans changed when Dr. Steven Zeitels determined that he needed more vocal rest. This eventually led to a four-hour vocal cord surgery, after which he remained on vocal rest to determine its effectiveness. Vitale was in Boston to meet with Dr. Zeitels, who analyzed his progress and gave his subsequent evaluation, in turn delivering news that basketball fans had hoped they would be able to hear.

“The surgery that you had recently to reconstruct your vocal cords went beautifully,” Dr. Zeitels said, speaking to Vitale. “I’m very optimistic in the fall – it’s encouraging that you can get back to work here. I see absolutely no evidence of the cancer whatsoever, so I think this is a terrific visit, and I’m really optimistic that the future is really bright for what you want to do [with a] return to the court.”

Over the last several years, Vitale had fought against melanoma and lymphoma amid a global pandemic and always remained hopeful that he would return to calling basketball games for ESPN. Vitale made a return to the broadcasting booth during the 2022 college basketball season and is now looking to make it back again. In a previous interview with Barrett Sports Media, Vitale said that he hopes to call college basketball games at 100 years old and is motivated by the winning formula of passion, pride and perseverance.

Vitale understands that Dr. Zeitels wants him to minimize what he does up until the fall, utilizing a gradual assimilation into speaking more. By the time the fall comes around, it seems to be entirely plausible that he could be back calling college basketball games again.

“You can work with this, but you don’t want to take on too much,” Zeitels said. “When you take on too much, vocal problems can get worse quickly, so as long as you’re graded in your approach and you’re thoughtful about things, I think the future looks really bright.”

Vitale, a former college basketball coach, accepted the Jimmy V Award for Perseverance at the 2022 ESPYS and discussed the importance of raising money to fulfill Valvano’s dream to beat cancer in his acceptance speech. Outside of his broadcasting work, he hosts the annual Dick Vitale Gala to benefit the V Foundation, which raised $24.8 million for pediatric cancer research in the past year.

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‘Hard Knocks’ to Feature AFC North Division for In-Season Edition

“We are ecstatic to expand the ‘Hard Knocks’ universe with our partners at NFL Films to the always thrilling AFC North division race.”

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Hard Knocks AFC North
Courtesy: HBO, NFL Films

HBO and NFL Films have announced that Hard Knocks will spotlight the AFC North in its first in-season edition following an entire division. The 18-time Emmy Award-winning series will feature the Baltimore Ravens, Cincinnati Bengals, Cleveland Browns and Pittsburgh Steelers, documenting their journeys during the final six weeks of the NFL regular season and subsequent playoff run for the division champion and teams that qualify in the Wild Card.

Among the athletes within the series are quarterbacks Lamar Jackson, Joe Burrow, Deshaun Watson, Russell Wilson and Justin Fields, along with other stars such as Derrick Henry, Ja’Marr Chase, Myles Garrett and TJ Watt. This new iteration of the series will take the air on Tuesday, Dec. 3 at 9 p.m. EST/PST on HBO and available to stream on Max. New episodes of the series will be available to watch on Tuesdays through the end of the NFL regular season and continue into the NFL Playoffs.

“Last season the AFC North became the first division ever to have all four teams finish with a winning record, making it the perfect place to launch this new approach to ‘Hard Knocks,’” Keith Cossrow, vice president and head of content for NFL Films, said in a statement. “We thank the Bengals, Browns, Ravens and Steelers for the opportunity to showcase some of the greatest rivalries in football and present the intensity of a playoff chase from all four corners of this incredibly competitive division.”

The Ravens were the first team featured on Hard Knocks when the training camp series first premiered in 2001. In the summer of 2009, the Bengals debuted on the program and reappeared in the 2013 edition as well. The Browns were on the show in 2018, while the Pittsburgh Steelers are going to be making the first appearance in the history of the organization. Last season, the Ravens won the division for the first time in four years after the Bengals had secured the division crown in the previous two seasons.

The in-season edition of Hard Knocks spanning an entire division officially renders the series into a venture with coverage of all facets of the NFL season – the offseason, training camp, regular season and the playoffs. HBO and NFL Films announced last month that the New York Giants would be part of the new offseason edition of the show debuting on Tuesday, July 2. Following the conclusion of that series, the training camp edition of the show will return with the Chicago Bears premiering on Tuesday, Aug. 6.

“We are ecstatic to expand the ‘Hard Knocks’ universe with our partners at NFL Films to the always thrilling AFC North division race,” Nancy Abraham and Lisa Heller, co-executive vice presidents of documentary and family programming at HBO, along with Bentley Weiner, vice president of sports documentaries at HBO, said in a statement. “In 2024, ‘Hard Knocks’ will feature the Pittsburgh Steelers, Baltimore Ravens, Cincinnati Bengals, Cleveland Browns, New York Giants and the Chicago Bears. What a year it will be on HBO and Max for football fans everywhere.”

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