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Apple and MLS agree to ten-year deal starting in 2023

Apple will stream all MLS games starting in 2023

Streaming Services Photo Illustrations Photo by Jakub Porzycki/NurPhoto via Getty Images

MLS became the first major U.S. sports league to go fully streaming when they agreed to a deal for all their global media rights with Apple. The yet-to-be-named streaming service will live within the Apple TV app and will include will all MLS, Leagues Cup, and select MLS NEXT Pro and MLS NEXT matches in one place. There will be no local blackouts.

MLS is still in negotiations with linear TV networks, including Fox and ESPN but those games would be simulcast in the Apple app and not limited to the broadcasters.

“Apple is the perfect partner to further accelerate the growth of MLS and deepen the connection between our clubs and their fans,” MLS Commissioner Don Garber told media. “Given Apple’s ability to create a best-in-class user experience and to reach fans everywhere, it’ll be incredibly easy to enjoy MLS matches anywhere, whether you’re a super fan or casual viewer.”

MLS said that Apple is not paying a straight rights fee for the package of rights. The Sports Business Journal reports that Apple is paying a minimum guarantee “worth $250M per year starting in ’23” and that “MLS will start to bring in more revenue as Apple sell subscriptions for the newly launched MLS subscription offering.”

“What’s different here is traditionally media companies pay rights fees, and you sell ads,” explained Don Garber. “This is a partnership. And that partnership’s core is a subscription business that we’re going to build together, and we’re going to get a guarantee against the revenues that will be achieved on the subscription business. Then, we go over those guarantees, we’ll have the opportunity to make more money, which is really unique in sports media.”

“For the first time in the history of sports, fans will be able to access everything from a major professional sports league in one place,” said Eddy Cue, Apple’s senior vice president of Services. “It’s a dream come true for MLS fans, soccer fans, and anyone who loves sports. No fragmentation, no frustration — just the flexibility to sign up for one convenient service that gives you everything MLS, anywhere and anytime you want to watch. We can’t wait to make it easy for even more people to fall in love with MLS and root for their favorite club.”

Long term planning

MLS had instructed teams to make sure that local broadcast agreements would expir by the end of the 2022 season. This allowed MLS to offer all its games with no geographic restriction’s, blackouts or other constraints. This was one of the selling points for Apple along with a younger demographic that is tech savvy and already in the streaming world.

The deal will push for games to primarily be on Wednesday and Saturday nights, allowing Apple to have a whip-around show similar to NFL Red Zone so fans can follow the latest action around the league. There will still be games on other days but will be limited to stadium conflicts and linear partner requirements.

Multi-lingual

MLS and Leagues Cup matches will include announcers calling the action in English and Spanish, while matches involving Canadian teams will also be available in French. They plan to add Portuguese in the future.

Details TBD

Full details for the new service have not been revealed yet. Subscription pricing, details regarding new MLS programming, match schedule, broadcast teams, production enhancements, and pre- and postgame coverage or even when fans can sign up will be revealed in the future.

“We are convinced that this is where our fans are going, this is where the business is going, and we have an opportunity to go there perhaps before anybody else does,” Don Garber said. “And to do it with the company that we believe is going to be the driver and ultimate winner in this global sports streaming space.”

Quick hits:

  • The new MLS streaming service will be included as part of MLS full-season ticket packages.
  • No blackouts or restrictions, even when broadcast on other networks.
  • All MLS, Leagues Cup, and select MLS NEXT Pro and MLS NEXT matches.
  • English, Spanish, French and Portuguese (future)
  • Whip around show and placement on Apple TV (probably next to Ted Lasso)
  • Games to broadcast in 1080p
  • Dropdown box to listen to different audio feeds for announcers

Is this a good thing?

On the surface it sounds great but in reality it is difficult to know until more details are provided and some time has passed. The reported $250 million breaks down to about $9 million per team before expansion but much of that will probably go into infrastructure for broadcasts initially. After some time it should provide a boost to the salary budget allowed teams.

It could, should, might allow MLS and Apple to find new fans and broaden support for MLS but only time will tell. Both MLS and Apple are forward looking regarding technology and new ways to drive customer engagement, but until those new customer interfaces arrive, it is unknown. With MLS being the first big US sport to go all streaming, they have the potential to set the standard, or serve as a warning for the other legues.

To be fair, NWSL is already “all in” on streaming... okay sort of all in on streaming. Their games are on Paramount but sometimes on Twitch and sometimes on broadcast television while some teams have local broadcast deals as well.

There will be a bit of streaming burnout potential as well. With fans already subscribing to ESPN+, Paramount and other services to watch sports, let alone other entertainment, there will be cries of “another streaming service”.

Ultimately, it should push MLS to not rest and keep investing in the league, the product on the field and how they present the games to their consumers.