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Disney Pulling the Plug On ESPN Classic

The Walt Disney Company is pulling the plug on ESPN Classic, with the sports-focused network going dark at the end of the year.
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The Walt Disney Company is pulling the plug on ESPN Classic.

The media giant plans to shut down the cable sports network on January 1, 2022, making it the second all-sports television network to go dark by the end of the year.

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ESPN Classic and ESPN Classic On Demand Will Be No More

Sports Business Journal reported that Disney told cable and satellite distributors about its plan to shut down ESPN Classic. They will also terminate the ESPN Classic On Demand service.

ESPN Classic first began as the Classic Sports Network when it launched in 1995. The network focused on classic sporting events from the past, documentaries covering sports history, and occasionally relevant live events, such as the Baseball Hall of Fame induction ceremony. ESPN then acquired the Classic Sports Network in 1997. The Walt Disney Company has owned ESPN since 1996.

The demise of ESPN Classic may not come as a surprise to some. ESPN has been slowly moving away from programming and distributing the channel for quite some time.

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Over the past decade, the sports media conglomerate has allowed cable and satellite distributors to put the channel on a tier or drop it entirely to make room for the SEC Network and Longhorn Network. Much of the older sports programming originally on ESPN Classic started shifting with the introduction of those various league-specific and regional sports networks.

The other programming on ESPN Classic, such as ESPN Films content, has found a new home on ESPN’s streaming service, ESPN+.

Dish Network and DirecTV reportedly started offering ESPN Classic as a VOD several years back. Several major cable providers, such as Comcast and AT&T, dropped the network from their offerings entirely.

“Ultimately, Classic paved the way for the non-ESPN league-owned sports networks,” tweeted Brian Bedol, one of the founders of the Classic Sports Network. “Long live Classic.”

Because of the way ESPN Classic’s programming has mostly already shifted to ESPN+ and ESPN’s other regional and league-specific networks, it’s likely that these will host all of ESPN Classic’s content moving forward.

NBC Sports Network Also Going Dark

ESPN Classic becomes the second sports network to hit the chopping block at the end of 2021. It was announced that NBC Sports Network would go dark on December 31, 2021. The programming hosted on this channel will be split between NBCUniversal’s other networks, including CNBC, Peacock, and USA Network.

NBCUniversal’s subscription streaming service, Peacock has already started hosting some of NBC Sports Network’s sporting events. This is where you can catch NFL’s Sunday Night Football, Olympics coverage, tennis, and the WWE.

USA Network will now be home to NASCAR and IndyCar races, USGA golf events, the Tour de France, and more. It is also the new home of English Premier League soccer matches, the most popular sporting event currently broadcast on NBC Sports.

As for the National Hockey League, this will no longer be a part of NBCUniversal at all. The NHL ended the relationship with NBC Sports after the 2020-21 hockey season. ESPN and TNT now share broadcast rights to NHL hockey games.