As we are about halfway through the IHF Men’s Handball World Championships I thought it might be a good time to review the ESPN+ Handball web streaming product.
The Viewing Experience
Overall, the viewing experience has been pretty good, albeit with a few hiccups. For me personally, watching streamed content is pretty much like watching regular TV. Occasionally, I’ll get a little buffering or pixelation, but overall the picture quality is outstanding and better than what I get via YouTube. I’ve been watching via the ESPN+ app on Roku and it’s pretty much like watching Netflix or Amazon Prime for me.
There have been a few glitches with the audio as sometimes the English commentary track has been missing. Usually, just a few minutes at the start of the first match, but on the 19th it went missing the whole day for some reason. I tweeted to @espnfansupport, but perhaps a few more voices were needed to get their attention to fix it.
Finding the matches has also been a bit challenging at times. Most notably, upcoming handball matches don’t show up in the upcoming matches section on the app until maybe 5 minutes prior to the start of the match. This has led to my consternation and to others who would message me “where’s the match?” when there is nothing to see on the ESPN+ app related to handball.
A Disappointing Lack of Promotion (So Far)
As one who’s trumpeted ESPN’s broadcasting of handball as the biggest and most important development in the entire history of team handball in the United States let’s just say that so far the promotion of the sport has been underwhelming. (For an amusing discussion on my expectations and the resigned viewpoint from another longtime follower of the sport (Chris Cappelman) check out this Facebook discussion: Link).
I guess my expectations were directly related to the way ESPN hypes and promotes sports on their very popular social media channels. Most notably, two Sports Center Instagram posts (Link 1 and Link 2) from back in 2017 and 2018 are probably the most viral handball related posts in U.S. history. Simonet’s behind the back shot got 1.2M views and Sigurdsson’s penalty shot punch in got 2.2M views. My logic: Wow, if ESPN was hyping handball when it wasn’t even being shown on ESPN, just imagine what they will do when it’s their content. (Background stories on ESPN posts: Link 1 and Link 2).
And, if one goes back further in time, who can possibly forget the attention that Scott Van Pelt and others paid the sport during the 2012 Olympics: Link
Again, I kind of figured that if ESPN talk radio got excited about handball when it was broadcast on NBC, maybe they would get really excited when it was their own product. At the very least I thought they would talk a little bit about handball while it was simultaneously being broadcast on ESPN+. Interviews with U.S. coaches or players. Maybe some discussion on Gauthier Mvumbi’s viral videos and shout out from Shaquille O’Neal? Instead, I haven’t heard a peep. Heck, at times it feels as if handball was still on beIN Sports.
We’re only half way through the Championship, though, so there’s time for things to pick up. We shouldn’t also forget that the U.S. withdrawal from the tournament was a huge setback. One, that for a short while even had me worried that ESPN wasn’t going to broadcast any matches. It also didn’t help that the NFL playoffs were in full swing. After Sunday’s conference finals there’s a two week lull until the Super Bowl. And, at the same time the World Championships really get going with the Quarterfinals, Semis and the Championships on the 31 when there is no football on TV. Yes, things could definitely pick up.
A Bright Spot: Handball on ESPN+ Long After the World Championships are Over
While I would greatly prefer for the World Championships to be on ESPN’s linear channels where it would reach virtually every home in the U.S. there are some advantages to being on the lower profile, web streaming only, ESPN+.
A Targeted Audience: The first advantage is that this smaller audience is also very, very sports oriented. Or, to put it another way, the type of sports fan who would be more inclined to watch something they maybe have never seen before or perhaps just once or twice during the Olympics several years ago. Further, they are more inclined to become a greater fan of the sport. And, if they are young enough they might even investigate finding out more about possibly playing the sport.
A Home for More Handball Content: This ties to another advantage of ESPN+. Namely, it could become a home for additional handball content. Suppose these new fans want to continue to watch handball. Many of those potential new fans probably think they will have to wait for the next Olympics or World Championships. After all, this is just some game that a P.E. teacher made up. Well, what better way could there possibly be to educate these new fans on the wonders of the EHF Champions League than to put Champions League matches on ESPN+ (ATTN ESPN: Those rights are available) Or, what about adding some U.S. content like our National Team matches or the Collegiate National Championships. Just think what a recruiting tool this could be? Why imagine some intramural all-star at Wake Forest seeing North Carolina playing Virginia in the Collegiate Handball Final Four and instantly thinking, “We could kick those guys asses.”
Forever Content: And, this leads to the final advantage of handball on ESPN+. The fact that streaming services aren’t limited by hours in a day. During the dog days of summer when there’s nothing new on TV, handball could still be on ESPN+ just waiting for someone new to discover. New fans, new player, new sponsors not just during a magical two weeks during the Olympics every four years. But, a trickle coming in at all times of the year. Here’s what that handball sub-channel could look like:
A Better Handball Icon is Needed
It took awhile, but ESPN has finally added handball to its list of sports on the ESPN+ App.
Unfortunately, it’s not the best icon or logo for handball, but just a placeholder. Maybe we can help out ESPN with a better icon. There are several examples from other sports there for comparison. But, this is actually a little bit tricky, for a couple of reasons. One, there is the other handball in the U.S. so that causes confusion. And, then a simple ball drawing could easily result in something that looks like another soccer ball. So, we need something simple that says “our handball.” If anybody out there has got some artistic or design talent… show us what you got.