Sports Media Embraces Paywall Trend

    • Sports Illustrated is the latest media outlet to put up a paywall on its online content.
    • ESPN has been leaning more into the model as well.

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Last week, Disney announced impressive growth of its streaming and subscription businesses, which have helped keep the company profitable while it waits to fully reopen its famous amusement parks.

Disney+ got the bulk of attention as it closes in on 100 million subscribers, but the earnings report also showed significant growth for ESPN+, which now has 12.1 million subscribers — almost double the 6.6 million it had a year ago.

The company has sought to grow its subscriber base by placing more of its writers behind the ESPN+ paywall.

ESPN put all of its analytical sports writing behind the ESPN+ paywall in November, which affected 23 high-profile writers such as fantasy football analyst Matthew Berry and NBA writer Zach Lowe.

Many of the company’s writers were already exclusive to ESPN+ after the streaming service absorbed ESPN Insider subscribers in 2018, but the November reorg doubled the amount of ESPN+ exclusive writers.

Similarly, Sports Illustrated — which sold to Authentic Brands Group for $110 million in 2019 — introduced a paywall earlier this month.

In general, paywalls have been posited as a potential savior for media outlets in a volatile industry. A reported 76% of U.S. newspapers had paywalls in 2019, up from 60% two years earlier.