First, the bad news: If you want to watch Saturday’s West Virginia-Kansas football game, you either need to subscribe to ESPN’s new streaming service, ESPN+ — think of it as ESPN’s Netflix — or find an establishment that is carrying the game. It is not available through your cable or satellite TV provider.
Now, the worse news: That’s not the only WVU-Kansas game you’ll need ESPN+ for this season.
When the Big 12 released its conference men’s basketball schedule Wednesday, it mentioned that both WVU-Kansas games, home and away, will be on the new streaming service. Same goes for both WVU-Baylor games and WVU’s game at Texas Tech.
We’ve already gotten some calls into the newsroom about it. I’d bet WVU has gotten some calls about it, too, since the university sent out another email on Thursday afternoon with instructions on how to order ESPN+.
There’s so much to unpack here, so let’s get right to it ...
The ESPN+ deal went into effect for Baylor, Kansas, Kansas State and Oklahoma State this year (which explains the WVU game on the service), then Iowa State, TCU, Texas Tech and West Virginia in 2020. That apparently means the year 2020 and not the 2020-21 athletic season, as seen with WVU’s home basketball games against Kansas and Baylor now on ESPN+.
OK, so I get putting the first Kansas-WVU game on ESPN+. It’s a new service, that’s always a fun game, it’s on the opening night on the conference slate. Seems like a perfect candidate.
But the second one, too? Really? So WVU fans have to shell out the subscription money ($5 a month) if they want to watch either of those games? That’s just too much.
I get that ESPN wants to ensure there’s value in the purchase. Why would anyone want to watch a bunch of nothing games? But this schedule, at least for WVU fans, looks more like ransom.
It’s not just about the cost or the hassle, either. It’s also about the audience.
West Virginia is the fourth-oldest state in the United States. It has the third-lowest median household income in America. According to the site BroadbandNow, it ranks 45th among states for percentage of residents with access to at least 25 mbps of broadband internet.
Put that all together, and that’s a really bad combination for WVU fans who want to watch the Mountaineers play Kansas in either football or men’s basketball. There are probably a bunch of people willing to pay the extra $5 a month for the access, but there’s a decent chance some of those folks can’t afford it or would have trouble accessing it even if they could afford it.
And it’s not just West Virginia. Oklahoma is ranked the 47th-most connected state in terms of broadband access. Texas is 31st, Iowa is 33rd and Kansas is 38th.
Look, streaming services are what’s next in terms of television viewing. That train isn’t slowing down. It’s only picking up speed. Disney is coming with a subscription streaming service. So is NBC. CBS already has one. So does World Wrestling Entertainment.
A point ultimately was coming where all these companies would have to decide when they would cut bait on viewers who would not — or could not — follow them toward the streaming horizon. That time is now.
The solution definitely is not to throw up your hands and stop watching football. By eliminating yourself from the discussion, you eliminate your opportunity to affect change. The best answer isn’t to call up ESPN or the Big 12 or WVU and complain.
The best answer is to call up your state representative or senator and get on their case as to why your access to broadband stinks. Go down that route, and you might see the problem get fixed a little quicker.
It would be crazy if West Virginia’s broadband issues get solved because folks can’t watch the Mountaineers play Kansas, but in the end, it really doesn’t matter what spurs the answer. All that matters is that there is an answer.