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Live sports are a major part of a well-rounded entertainment diet, but 2020 has had some other plans for baseball, basketball, hockey, tennis, college football, and pretty much every other nationally broadcast sport. In lieu of that live sports rush, though, there are other ways to get the sports content your viewing habits are missing.
Namely, a subscription to ESPN+, which comes with access to live sports and archival games, sure, but more importantly, the sports network’s trove of deeply fascinating “30 for 30” documentaries. Each film meticulously examines an event, a season, a star, or even a single play in an enlightening 90-minute package that’s engrossing for die-hard sports fans and disinterested novices alike.
You can access the entire archive of “30 for 30” docs with a subscription to ESPN+, available here for just $5.99 a month or $49.99 a year. You can also bundle ESPN+ with Hulu and Disney+ for $12.99 total, saving 30 percent off each streaming service’s individual prices.
Your subscription comes with access to thousands of events from MLB, NHL, MLS, Serie A, FA Cup, Top Rank Boxing, and more; Grand Slam tennis; UFC Fight Nights and PPV events; and college football, basketball, lacrosse, and more. There are also plenty of ESPN+ originals, including “The Boardroom with KD,” “Peyton’s Places” with Peyton Manning, “Ariel & The Bad Guy” with Ariel Helwani, “NBA Rooks” with Zion Williamson, and more. You’ll also get ESPN+ premium articles and analysis from writers including Eric Karabell, Buster Olney, and Mel Kiper Jr., plus fantasy sports tools.
But the real crown jewel of the service is access to the full, award-winning “30 for 30” library — available to stream or even download to watch later.
“30 for 30” was originally launched as a series of 30 feature-length documentaries commemorating the three decades since ESPN was founded in 1979, but its positive critical reception and appeal even to non-sports fans inspired the network to bring it back as an ongoing series in 2012. Some of those original “30 for 30” films turned into true classics, like Steve James’ “No Crossover: The Trial of Allen Iverson,” Jeff and Michael Zimbalist’s Columbian soccer saga “The Two Escobars,” and Dan Klores’ “Winning Time: Reggie Miller vs. The New York Knicks.”
The critically acclaimed five-part “O.J.: Made in America” limited series was released under the “30 for 30” umbrella, with universally positive reviews for Ezra Edelman’s look at the impact that the social and political climate in the U.S. had on O.J. Simpson’s football career (and his murder trial and subsequent acquittal).
Recent installments included “Vick,” a look at former NFL quarterback Michael Vick and his very public dogfighting scandal that IndieWire’s Steve Greene called an “expansive project that winds between moments of insight and moments of redundancy” — director Stanley Nelson does an admirable job investigating both Vick’s influential football career and the impact of the fallout from the scandal — and “Long Gone Summer,” about Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa’s 1998 home run race that IndieWire’s Ben Travers wrote “barely bothers to explain the relevance to modern fans, framing its remembrance through rose-colored nostalgia.” (Hey, they can’t all be out-of-the-park hits.)
There’s also 2018’s “Seau,” a look at San Diego Chargers linebacker Junior Seau (wrote Greene, it’s “a worthy addition to a well-established template of sports stories designed to delight and challenge die-hards and oblivious observers in equal measure”); “Nature Boy,” about pro wrestler Ric Flair (wrote Greene, “as illuminating of Flair’s personal life as it is the culture that helped elevate all of his personality traits to being worthy of superstar status”); and “What Carter Lost,” about a 1989 Dallas high school football team’s impressive championship run and subsequent fall from grace for some of its players (which, Greene wrote, focuses “more on understanding than blame,” and provides “a careful consideration of how extreme circumstances can bring about unexpected results”).
Judd Apatow even made his documentary debut with “Doc and Darryl,” about the lives of troubled Major League Baseball icons Dwight “Doc” Gooden and Darryl Strawberry, which he pitched via Tweet and ultimately was hired to make with “30 for 30” veteran Michael Bonfiglio (“You Don’t Know Bo: The Legend of Bo Jackson”).
“They became caricatures, when in fact they were people with a disease,” Apatow said of his desire to investigate each man’s legacy. “I’m glad that it humanizes them and tells people what their lives have been like.”
Although the film wasn’t as uplifting as he’d hoped, particularly when it got into each man’s troubled past, struggles with addiction, and legal troubles, “it certainly made me feel a lot of compassion for people who are struggling with this,” Apatow said. “I hope the movie inspires people to get sober or hang on to their sobriety.”
An ESPN+ subscription allows for HD streaming on up to three devices at once, and the service is compatible with Apple devices (iPhone, iPad, Apple TV), Amazon Fire (Fire TV, Fire Tablet), Android devices (phone, TV, tablet), Roku, Samsung Smart TV, Google Chromecast, Playstation 4, Xbox One, and Oculus Go.
What you won’t get: access to traditional ESPN networks or any of the content that airs on them (try Sling TV or another television subscription or cable provider for that).
You can use your existing ESPN account to sign up for ESPN+, or create a new one to set your preferences for your favorite leagues, teams, and players so you can get news, scores, highlights, and personalized, relevant content across all your devices.