ESPN2 is an American pay television network that is owned by ESPN Inc., a joint venture between The Walt Disney Company (which owns a controlling 80% stake) and the Hearst Communications (which owns the remaining 20%).
ESPN2 was initially formatted as a younger-skewing counterpart to its parent network ESPN, with a focus on sports popular among young adult audiences (ranging from mainstream events to other unconventional sports). By the late 1990s, this mandate was phased out, as the channel increasingly served as a second outlet for ESPN’s mainstream sports coverage.
As of September 2018, ESPN2 is available to approximately 86 million television households (93.2% of households with pay television) in the United States.
Sports events presented on ESPN2 originally tended to be alternative sports such as poker, billiards, lumberjacking, extreme sports and, more recently, drum and bugle corps. However, in recent years ESPN2 has broadcast increasingly more mainstream sporting events, including Major League Baseball games, the East–West Shrine Game, much of the 2006 World Baseball Classic, many Major League Soccer games, NCAA football games, NCAA basketball games, the WNBA, the Arena Football League, regular season KHL games, and Saturday afternoon NASCAR Nationwide Series races. In 2011, ESPN2 also acquired broadcast rights to delayed coverage for some American Le Mans Series events, with series’ major events airing on ABC.
The channel has also become ESPN’s home for tennis coverage. The showpieces are all four of the “Grand Slam” tournaments: the Australian Open, the French Open, Wimbledon and the US Open. U.S.-based tournaments, including the ATP Masters 1000 events at Indian Wells and Miami, as well as the US Open Series, are also broadcast on the channel.
Most of ESPN’s soccer output has been broadcast on ESPN2, including Major League Soccer, Premier League and La Liga matches; the channel also broadcast the United States’ FIFA World Cup qualifiers in 2009. ESPN2 formerly broadcast matches of the UEFA Champions League, until rights for that tournament moved to Fox Soccer and its sister networks. In 2003, ESPN2 began broadcasting Major League Lacrosse games. In March 2007, ESPN2 and the league agreed on a new broadcast contract that ran until the 2016 season.
On 4 October 2017, ESPN announced that it had acquired rights to the Formula One World Championship; the majority of the races are carried by ESPN2.
ESPN2’s former flagship show, the morning sports/entertainment program Cold Pizza, achieved minimal success and saw several format and host changes. In January 2006, it was supplanted by the television simulcast of ESPN Radio’s Mike and Mike in the Morning (which moved from ESPNews) and moved to a later time slot (10:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. Eastern Time). In May 2007, Cold Pizza moved from New York City to the ESPN headquarters in Bristol, Connecticut and was renamed ESPN First Take. After ESPN became part of a new broadcast contract with the association, ESPN2 also premiered the new daily show NASCAR Now (similar to the previous RPM 2Night, except only focusing on NASCAR) in February 2007. Quite Frankly with Stephen A. Smith, a program that featured interviews with popular sports figures, had averaged extremely low ratings, and had also faced several timeslot changes, until it was finally canceled in January 2007.
On August 8, 2018, ESPN2 stunted as “ESPN8: The Ocho”—an homage to a fictitious eighth ESPN channel portrayed in the 2004 film DodgeBall: A True Underdog Story, dedicated to unconventional and obscure sporting events. The event—which also included airings of the original film— was a follow-up to a similar marathon aired by ESPNU the previous year.