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Apple Acquires Exclusive MLS Media Rights in 10-Year Deal: Is It Beneficial for the League?

After months of waiting, wondering and hand-wringing from fans of Major League Soccer, one piece of off-field drama that cropped up during the balance of the 2021 MLS season and the first part of the 2022 MLS season is finally settled, as, on Tuesday, Apple secured exclusive MLS media rights in a 10-year deal with the league.

MLS matches will be exclusive to Apple TV+ starting in 2023, with Apple TV+ creating an MLS streaming service within the Apple TV mobile app and Apple TV’s website.

This new media deal will see the end of MLS Live on ESPN+ inside the United States, as well as locally-produced telecasts of games not selected for national airing on either broadcast stations in and around a team’s home market or on a regional sports network within the team’s territory.

The Terms of the Apple/ MLS Deal

A Tuesday press release outlined the pertinent information regarding the pact between MLS and Apple.

First and foremost, this new media rights deal spans the next 10 seasons, beginning with the opening of the 2023 MLS season, and running through MLS Cup 2032.

LOS ANGELES, CA – DECEMBER 07: The Philip F. Anschutz trophy is displayed on the field prior to the 2014 MLS Cup match between the New England Revolution and the Los Angeles Galaxy at StubHub Center on December 7, 2014, in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Victor Decolongon/Getty Images)

Perhaps a bigger takeaway from the Apple/ MLS deal is the fact that this deal covers global streaming rights over the next decade.

As per the official press release:

“This partnership is a historic first for a major professional sports league, and will allow fans around the world to watch all MLS, Leagues Cup, and select MLS Next Pro and MLS Next matches in one place- without any local broadcast or the need for a traditional pay TV bundle.”

Major League Soccer

It should be noted that the deal will geo restrict Leagues Cup and Campeones Cup matches on Apple TV+ in Mexico.

MLS Deal with Apple TV+ More Than Just the Games

People who tune into MLS on Apple TV+ will not only get the matches and teams that they want to see, but the new deal between the two parties will call for an immersive experience.

“In addition to all of the match content, the service will provide fans a new weekly live whip-around show so they never miss an exciting goal or save, and also game replays, highlights, analysis, and other original programming,” the press release stated. “This live and on-demand MLS content will provide in-depth, behind-the-scenes views of the players and clubs that fans love.”

The Apple press release also mentions that some tentpole MLS matches will be available over Apple TV+ without a fee.

CARSON, CALIFORNIA – APRIL 09: Samuel Grandsir #11 of Los Angeles Galaxy intercepts a pass intended for Samuel Grandsir #11 of Los Angeles Galaxy during the second half of a game at Dignity Health Sports Park on April 09, 2022 in Carson, California. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

Moreover, the whip-around show for MLS on Apple TV+ will be streamed on Saturday evenings, something that’s become commonplace for the league in the past, as MLS has streamed such a program on Decision Day through its YouTube channel.

Cost of New Apple TV+ Deal for MLS Rights in Billions

While MLS initially wanted a new media rights deal for match broadcasts with an annual price tag of $300 million (USD), the new deal for exclusive worldwide streaming of all matches will be only slightly cheaper than what the league was targeting, coming in at $250 million annually, or $2.5 billion for the life of the deal.

Comparatively, the expiring media rights deal between MLS, ESPN, Univision/TUDN, and FOX Sports was only netting the league a yearly price tag of $90 million, so the new deal is nearly triple the cost of the old one.

MLS’ current television partners are still in play for a package of games through traditional media, as Sports Illustrated‘s Brian Strauss mentioned Tuesday.

“Although the days of club-specific, regional broadcasts will end following the 2022 season, linear networks like ESPN, Fox, or Univision are still in frame to negotiate a broadcast deal,” wrote Strauss. “Those games will be simulcast, however, by Apple. Local blackouts will become a relic of the past.”

Brian Strauss- Sports Illustrated

Eddy Cue Speaks on New MLS Media Deal With Apple TV+

With the Tuesday announcement that Apple TV+ would score the exclusive worldwide media rights for MLS match coverage and shoulder programming starting next season, dignitaries from both parties took time out to discuss the new pact, including Eddy Cue, Apple’s Senior Vice President of Services.

He called the new deal a perfect storm for sports fans.

“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,” Cue said. “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 anything and 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.”

Eddy Cue

Don Garber Speaks on New MLS Media Deal With Apple TV+

MLS Commissioner Don Garber discussed his thoughts about the new MLS media rights deal with Apple TV+ in an open letter to fans on MLSSoccer.com Tuesday.

“This partnership has been built to provide you with more matches, more content, and easier access than any sport in North America,” Garber wrote. “I believe that it is the perfect fit for our fans and our League as we enter a new era leading up to the 2026 World Cup.”

Don Garber- MLS Commissioner

One big question still remains, however:

Is The New MLS Media Deal Good For MLS?

The new MLS media deal is a mixed bag for the parties involved.

While there are some wins in the new deal for fans, there are some losses to be had, as well.

First and foremost, a big win for the fans is the fact that blackouts on streaming for in-market MLS games will be going the way of the dodo bird.

WASHINGTON, DC – APRIL 16: Danny Hoesen #9 of Austin FC controls the ball in front of Brendan Hines-Ike #4 and Steve Birnbaum #15 of D.C. United during the second half of the MLS game at Audi Field on April 16, 2022 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images)

With no more blackouts, this ensures that any fan who has carved out the time on the weekends to watch his or her team of choice can watch that match without leaving the app.

More Eyes on MLS With Worldwide Media Deal

Secondly, a big win in the new MLS deal with Apple TV+ is the simple fact that it’s a worldwide deal.

No longer will you have to sign up for a different streaming service in different countries to watch matches, since with Apple TV+ you can have people across the globe watching matches every weekend at once, leading to a potential viewing audience in the billions.

A possible audience in the billions would ultimately be good for MLS as it would yield more people watching the North American brand of soccer.

However, there’s a big loss to be had with the new MLS media deal.

Talented People Might Be Out of Work

With the discontinuation of locally-produced MLS telecasts comes the harsh reality of the business world as it relates to the new media deal with Apple TV+.

There could be the potential that some highly-talented and incredible broadcasters could lose their positions here, and who knows how many of the announcers, analysts, and reporters currently tied to a team’s local broadcast crew get hired to work the Apple TV+ package of games next season once the new deal takes effect.

If FOX Sports is not retained as one of MLS’ national broadcast partners after this season, among the first telephone calls that need to be made are to John Strong and Stu Holden, currently FOX’s No. 1 MLS commentary team.

Those two are to MLS what the late, great Pat Summerall and John Madden were to the NFL decades ago.

Simply put, they’re the best in the business, putting on the best show in the business, so it’s hard to imagine MLS without that duo calling a match.

Final Thoughts

In the grand scheme of things, the new MLS media deal with Apple TV+ serves as another reminder that the way in which viewers are watching sports is consistently changing.

If a viewer isn’t watching a television program live, he or she is watching it on DVR playback, and if that viewer isn’t watching it on DVR playback, he or she is watching it on a streaming platform through a computer or a mobile app.

The UFC knew what it was doing in March of 2019 when it announced that all pay-per-views from April of that year onward were going to be exclusive to ESPN+.

Both MLS and MMA covet a young demographic, and young viewers don’t watch TV all that much any longer.

Thus, the new MLS media deal with Apple TV+ isn’t too surprising.

Main Image Credits: Embed from Getty Images

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