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MISSOULA — The Big Sky Conference announced some major changes to how fans will watch competitions going forward.

The league announced Wednesday on social media and via a press release a new multi-platform media rights deal with ESPN. Competitions that were streamed on PlutoTV — a free platform the league used during the past few years — will now be on ESPN+ and the ESPN app, which are subscription-based platforms.

“This landmark agreement for the Big Sky and our membership rightfully aligns the nation’s preeminent FCS conference with the strongest media brand in sports,” Big Sky commissioner Tom Wistrcill said in a release. “We are absolutely thrilled to join the ESPN family and deliver an elevated viewing experience with hundreds of Big Sky contests on ESPN+ each year. In addition, the numerous linear opportunities on ESPN networks now available to us is unprecedented among our peers, and yet another way that we will enhance the brand of the Big Sky.”

The Big Sky had streamed six sports on PlutoTV: softball, football, soccer, volleyball and men's and women's basketball. All home games and all conference games will stream on ESPN+.

The move is centered around streaming and should allow the Big Sky and its member schools to get more national visibility by attaching to ESPN.

"I'm excited," Montana AD Kent Haslam told the Missoulian and Wednesday. "I'm excited for our conference, excited for our teams and our coaches and student athletes. It's a great platform. It's well recognized. It's easy to access so I think it opens a lot of great opportunities for us as a conference."

"I think attaching yourself to the ESPN brand is certainly powerful and it's recognized as a leader in sports. That brand carries a lot of weight. It will be shift, where it's a pay model now."

ESPNU will carry two football games and one men's basketball game per season and the men's and women's basketball conference title games at the end of the league tournament.

The Big Sky also has a partnership with ROOT Sports to stream football games and, according to a separate release from the Montana sports information office, that partnership will continue.

The first event that will be carried by ESPN+ is the Big Sky Football Kickoff in late July.

Lance Hartzler covers Griz men's basketball and prep sports for the Missoulian. Follow him on Twitter at @lance_hartz or shoot him an email at

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