Big Sky Conference, ESPN Reach Multi-Year Rights Agreement

More than 600 sporting events will be streamed on ESPN+, ESPNU, increasing visibility of Big Sky Conference

By Micah Drew
Captains lead the Grizzlies onto the field before a game against Eastern Washington. Beacon File Photo

Fans of Montana’s two flagship sports programs, the Grizzlies and the Bobcats, will now have expanded opportunities to keep up with events, following a new deal between the Big Sky Conference and ESPN.

On Wednesday, the Big Sky Conference announced that more that 600 sporting events, including University of Montana and Montana State University games, will be streamed on ESPN+ and the ESPN app. ESPNU will televise two football games each year, in addition to one regular season men’s basketball game and the championship games for the men’s and women’s basketball tournaments are slated for ESPN networks.

“This landmark agreement for the Big Sky and our membership rightfully aligns the nation’s preeminent FCS conference with the strongest media brand in sports,” Big Sky Conference Commissioner Tom Wistrcill said in a press release. “We are absolutely thrilled to join the ESPN family and deliver an elevated viewing experience with hundreds of Big Sky contests on ESPN+ each year. In addition, the numerous linear opportunities on ESPN networks now available to us is unprecedented among our peers, and yet another way that we will enhance the brand of the Big Sky.”

Previously, the Big Sky Conference had streamed six sports — softball, football, soccer, volleyball, men’s and women’s basketball, as well as some track and field competitions— on the free streaming service PlutoTV.

The new agreement replaces the PlutoTV deal and moves Big Sky contests to ESPN+ which currently has more than 13.8 million subscribers.

A separate press release by Montana Sports Information added that Big Sky media rights partner ROOT Sports will continue to broadcast conference football games

University of Montana Athletic Director Kent Haslam told 406mtsports.com that the university was excited for the opportunity the partnership offered for Griz athletics.

“It’s a great platform. It’s well recognized. It’s easy to access so I think it opens a lot of great opportunities for us as a conference,” Haslam said. “I think attaching yourself to the ESPN brand is certainly powerful and it’s recognized as a leader in sports. That brand carries a lot of weight. It will be [a] shift, where it’s a pay model.”

Big Sky teams have recently been featured on ESPN networks while competing on the national stage, including the FCS playoffs, the Big Sky men’s basketball championships, and the NCAA cross country championships where the Northern Arizona men’s cross country team claimed its fourth NCAA title in five years, live on ESPNU.

The first event as part of the new deal will be the Big Sky Conference’s annual Football Kickoff, streaming live on ESPN+ on July 26. Fans can sign up for ESPN+ online or on the app, or as part of the Disney Bundle that provides subscribers access to Disney+, Hulu and ESPN+.