Long Beach State’s sports games are now being broadcast on ESPN+, a deal that CSULB officials believe will make the program more prominent and give a boost to its recruiting.
The multi-year deal, reached over the summer between the Big West Conference and ESPN, will allow certain conference games to be streamed on the network’s platform, ESPN+, which will also require fans to pay a subscription fee to watch the games.
“It is a multi-year agreement that will require each Big West institution to produce a minimum of 60 games, including all men’s and women’s basketball games,” Tom Davis, chief marketing officer of the Big West, said.
Specific numbers about contract length and revenue for LBSU were not disclosed by the conference.
ESPN+, by itself, has two payment options. Fans can either subscribe to a monthly plan that costs $6.99—recently increased from $5.99—or pay $69.99 for 12 months.
There is also a bundle option that includes ESPN+, Disney+ and Hulu for $13.99 a month.
Before this deal, it was up to the individual institution to decide how they wanted their streams to look like and how many games were broadcast. LBSU used Big West TV, but ESPN+ represents an upgrade in how fans experience games.
Andy Fee, athletic director at CSULB, explained how it’s beneficial for the audience to have a consistent, professional broadcast.
“There were probably varying degrees of production across the conference, some schools better than others, so it was really hit and miss,” Fee said. “ESPN has requirements, so all the conference schools have upgraded their streaming ability, and, in the end, I think it’ll deliver a really great product for the fans.”
CSULB is used to broadcasting about 140 games in one season, meaning the 60-game requirement isn’t a tough task to handle for the production crew.
Andrew Fischer, who will play a pivotal role in this as the video production coordinator for Beach Vision and the Athletics department, said preliminary talks between both sides began about five years ago, but negotiations weren’t finalized until about the past year when Dan Butterly became the commissioner of the Big West.
Fischer said that the competition out in the Big West, with schools such as CSULB, Hawaii, and Irvine blossoming in several sports, were key factors that made the Big West want to make the ESPN+ deal come to fruition.
“We’re seeing what some of these bigger programs are doing, like the Pac-12, and the great broadcast that they’re putting on for their student-athletes and we wanted to bring that here,” Fischer said. “So it just made sense for our conference to team up with ESPN in order to just bring everyone up as a whole.”
Fischer, however, said there are concerns about fans not paying the subscription fee to watch the games. To increase accessibility, a backup option is being discussed, which would allow certain games that won’t be streamed on ESPN+ to be streamed on a free platform like YouTube, Twitch or Twitter.
The games would be archived on those platforms so fans don’t have to pay for something they may not need all the time, but nothing is set in stone yet. Fischer said all athletic directors in the conference are hoping to work out something with ESPN to allow that to materialize because LBSU and other schools can’t broadcast multiple games simultaneously anymore.
“Before we were doing 140 games at once, we’d be doing two to three games at a time,” Fischer said. “We can’t do that right now with the way the current deal is set up.”
Beyond that, the deal will bring more substantial benefits besides increased streaming quality; one of them involves individuals who aren’t CSULB students yet.
The recruitment process is paramount to the potential success of a team, especially to programs like CSULB who are in that middle tier of being notable but not at the level of the nation’s biggest schools.
“We recruit against many conferences across the country and most of them at this point are with ESPN,” Fee said. “So it helps us when we’re in the recruiting battle of recruits who want to go watch games who may be out of region and they want to watch us play, best way for them to do it is jump on ESPN.”
Fischer said CSULB has also purchased a brand-new production truck for broadcast equipment, which will simplify the process for the production crew. They previously relied on a flypack system and moved gear depending on the sport currently playing, but now they’ll have a sprinter van with a trailer attached to drive around to each individual location.
“This deal really showed that our school was behind us and reinforcing our broadcast side for our student-athletes by purchasing that truck and continuing to fund our broadcast center here,” Fischer said.
In the wider lens, the central component is that the deal puts LBSU on the national map. Davis said ESPN+ memberships increased by 75% in the past year to a total of 14.9 million users and counting. Add the combined 600 games the Big West must broadcast and that number could leap even further.
Fischer added that on the first day of Week of Welcome, the broadcast table didn’t have as much attention, though a good amount. But when the crew brought out the ESPN banner to put in front of the table for the second day, students flocked to the booth.
“As soon as you throw ESPN out there, it gets everyone’s attention,” Fischer said. “So just having that, bringing that attention to us here, is super big.”