The sporting calendar may have been completely decimated, but ESPN+ and its amazing archive is thankfully on hand to keep armchair sports fans occupied during the lockdown.
While the streaming service’s hefty list of exclusive live broadcast rights for top tier sports may be its main draw for subscribers, ESPN+ has a veritable goldmine of classic action and absorbing documentaries that often get overlooked.
In the lean times we find ourselves in, that archive is now a godsend for those that are craving the background hum of crowd noise and all the drama that only sport can provide.
From incredible insights into the world of the modern athlete, to tales of underdog triumphs and shocking falls from grace, read on to find out TechRadar’s pick of ESPN+’s on demand content.
How to get and stream ESPN+
A subscription to the streaming service would normally give you access to select live MLB, NHL, NBA, and MLS games, as well as college sports, PGA golf, Top Rank Boxing, and Grand Slam tennis matches. Its also the place for United Soccer League, cricket, rugby, Canadian Football League, English Football League, and UEFA Nations League games. However much of that live content has been wiped from the schedule thanks to the COVID-19 crisis.
The service costs $4.99 per month – so not huge sums, and less than streaming services like Netflix (and a lot less than cable), and still looks like a winning deal thanks to its wealth of on-demand content.
The subscription fee lets you watch online, but also via its mobile app and TV streamer apps on the likes of Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV, Roku, PlayStation 4 and Xbox. And there’s no long term commitment, meaning that you can cancel at any time if you decide you no longer want it.
For even greater value we’d recommend going for the bumper deal that Disney is currently offering which pulls together its three main streaming services – ESPN+, Hulu and Disney+ for the bargain price of $12.99 per month.
O.J.: Made in America
The starting point for any self-respecting sports fan when trawling through ESPN+’s archive is the 30 For 30 series of documentaries.
Originally commissioned as 30 one hour films that each focussed on key sporting events that occurred during the network’s first thirty years on air, the series helped redefined historical filmmaking. Such was the original season’s success that it spawned two further volumes of 30 films plus a number of spin offs.
The unquestionable stand-out from the series is the Oscar winning O.J.: Made in America, directed by Ezra Edelman, a five-part mini-series that charts the rise and spectacular fall of one of sport’s most controversial figures – former Buffalo Bills star OJ Simpson.
As well as delivering a forensic examination of Simpson’s NFL career and his 1995 criminal trial for the murders of his ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend, Ron Goldman, it also explores issues of race and celebrity in the United States.
A simply essential watch.
UFC: 25 Greatest Fights
For fight fans in the US, ESPN+ stands as the best way to get UFC content, with the streaming service having exclusive coverage of UFC Fight Night events and the only place you can order PPVs.
It also has a massive on-demand library of past UFC fights that’s available to access on demand during the lockdown.
Neatly compiling the sport’s most dramatic moments is “UFC: 25 Greatest Fights” which counts down the best fights in UFC history, ending with the greatest fight of all time. Broken up into six episodes, which are all about two hours long with each featuring three-to-five classic bouts, it serves as a perfect introduction to the sport for those that are new to MMA.
Directed and produced by Daniel Gordon and co-produced by the BBC, this ground-breaking 30 For 30 film documents the events and aftermath of the worst disaster in British sporting history.
Examining the flawed police response to a crush that saw ninety-six people killed at Hillsborough Stadium in Sheffield during an FA Cup semi-final between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest in 1989, the meticulous, Emmy-nominated documentary helped highlight the cover up that ensued following the disaster.
Featuring interviews with survivors, victims’ relatives, police officers and investigators, it remains a sobering examination of one of football’s darkest days.
Peyton Manning: Breaking down Tom Brady
One of the few bits of genuine sporting news to break during the lockdown that wasn’t related to the virus has been NFL legend Tom Brady’s surprise move from the New England Patriots to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
The quarterback’s main rival during much of his career has been Colts and Broncos star Peyton Manning, having famously defeated Brady in the 2015 AFC championship game, before going on to win Super Bowl 50.
Since retiring from the game, Manning has began working for ESPN+, fronting its sports analysis show Detail. Offering deep dives into tactics and sports psychology, all past episodes are available to stream on the service. The pick of the bunch is this special edition which sees Manning dissect the plays of his great adversary.
Essential viewing for Bucs fans looking to get hyped about their new hero.
Venus Williams vs Lindsay Davenport, Women’s Wimbledon Tennis final 2005
ESPN+ archive has a treasure trove of tennis content including a collection of some of the greatest US Open and Wimbledon matches of all time.
Among the classic matches available on demand is Venus Williams and Lindsay Davenport’s epic clash on Centre Court at Wimbledon in 2005.
Davenport had come into the final as the number one ranked player in the world, while Williams had entered the tournament as a seeming spent force but would pull of one of the sport’s greatest comebacks to become the lowest-seeded female player to ever win the tournament.
Lasting two hours and 45 minutes, with the advantage ebbing and flowing between both players throughout, this is tennis at its most exhilarating.
Rafael Nadal vs Roger Federer, Men’s Wimbledon Tennis final 2008
Bjorn Borg over John McEnroe in 1980? Goran Ivanisevic’s marathon victory over Patrick Rafter in 2001? While the argument will forever rage as to what the greatest men’s tennis match of all time is, we’re going to stick our necks out and opt for this never-to-be-forgotten battle.
Available to watch in full on ESPN+, this clash of the game’s modern day titans came a year after the pair had played out another stone cold classic which saw Federer pull off a five-set victory against the Spaniard.
This rematch also went all the way, while somehow managing to up the drama further, with the game managing to keep spectators on the edge of their seats for an epic four hours and 48 minutes, with the victor…well, we won’t spoil it for you!
In short, one of the greatest sporting spectacles of the century so far that still manages to stir on a second viewing.
Tiger Woods wins the Masters in 1997
ESPN+ boasts the full collection of official Masters films, featuring a one-hour recap of each tournament since 1960.
While many will opt for Phil Mickelson’s ending his major title hoodoo in 2004 as the tournament’s greatest moment, our pick of the vintage footage to watch once more time is Tiger Woods’ 1997 triumph at Augusta.
While the tournament that year wasn’t a close one, it nevertheless remains a spine-tingling watch as the then 21-year-old lives up to the hype and becomes the youngest Masters champ ever while shooting the lowest score in the tournament’s history.
Basketball: A Love Story
This 2018, 20-hour documentary, directed by Dan Klores is a series of more than 60 interconnected “short stories” related to shooting hoops.
Narrated by a long list of celebrities including Chadwick Boseman, Julianne Moore, Daveed Diggs, and Ashley Judd, it covers the gamut of on-court rivalries to little-known stories to in-depth retrospectives on players and events which helped shaped basketball as we know it.
Ambitious, in-depth and just flat out entertaining, it’s a must-see for any fan of the sport.
The incredible life and times of Argentine soccer wizard Diego Armando Maradona clearly can’t be sufficiently encapsulated in one feature-length documentary.
Asif Kapadia’s superb Maradona movie recently wowed cinema audiences, but that film focused primarily on his turbulent time at Italian club Napoli.
Subscribers to ESPN+ have access to this equally excellent 30 For 30: Soccer Stories film that hones in on the footballer’s greatest triumph, namely his astonishing one-man-show performance at the 1986 World Cup which saw Argentina crowned world champions.
Muhammad Ali vs Joe Frazier – The Thrilla in Manila (1975)
There’s a wealth of legendary ring battles available at an instant for boxing fans on ESPN+, including Hagler vs Hearns, Leonard vs Duran III and Mayweather vs Pacquiao via the service’s “Best of Boxing” replay archive.
Crucially, the collection provides an opportunity to watch the greatest of all time in action, Muhammad Ali, including the final chapter of the heavyweight legend’s epic trilogy of match ups with Joe Frazier.
The fight that gave birth to Ali’s famous “Rope-a-Dope” strategy, it’s an all-out battle that has lost none of its intensity in the intervening 45 years that have past since the history-making bout took place.
Watch your ESPN+ subscription from abroad
If the global lockdown means that you’re stranded overseas, you’ll soon discover that the myriad content on your ESPN+ subscription can’t be watched. That’s because it gets geo-blocked, stopping you watching once you leave the US. To over come that you can try using a VPN to change your IP address to a US server and watch as if you were back at home.
Virtual Private Networks are also handy if you’re concerned about streaming safely on the web, thanks to the encryption they use to hide your details. And the best won’t log your personal information, either. We’ve tested hundreds of VPNs and can recommend ExpressVPN as the very best.. It’s fast, has loads of servers, really robust security and is available on loads of devices including Smart TVs, Fire TV Stick, PC, Mac, iPhone, Android phone, iPads, tablets etc.
You can try ExpressVPN out with a 30-day money back guarantee. And when you sign up for a whole year, you can currently get 49% off and 3 months extra absolutely FREE!