Apple and MLS announce 10-year streaming partnership


By JOE REEDY, AP Sports Reporter

Apple’s foray into live sports took a big step forward on Tuesday.

Apple and Major League Soccer have announced a 10-year streaming service partnership that will allow fans to watch every match without local cuts or restrictions. The service will be available exclusively through the Apple TV app from next year.

The deal is Apple’s second venture into professional sports streaming. In April, it began airing “Friday Night Baseball”, an exclusive weekly program of Major League Baseball games.

“The opportunity to partner with a sports league and really build the product with them is very, very unique,” said Eddy Cue, Apple’s senior vice president of services. “We can bring the things that we do really well with the things that they do really well and really make the product, which I think will be significantly better for the fans. We want to create a great experience for fans so they can watch and experience MLS like they’ve never had before.”

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MLS commissioner Don Garber said Apple is not paying a rights fee, but rather a minimum guarantee against the revenue that will be generated from the two season ticket sales.

“It’s part of what we both wanted. We are in business together,” Garber said.

People familiar with the deal told The Associated Press that the minimum guarantee was worth $250 million a year. The people spoke on condition of anonymity because they are not free to discuss financial matters publicly.

Sports Business Journal was the first to report on the minimum guarantee.

Details of the streaming service will be announced in the coming months. The package will be included for fans who have full season ticket packages for their club.

Select MLS and League Cup matches will be available at no additional cost to Apple TV+ subscribers, with a limited number of matches also available for free.

“We really couldn’t have found a better partner to embark on this new journey together to capitalize on the momentum that exists in MLS today,” Garber said. “We can use this deal as rocket fuel as we head into the World Cup in the United States, Canada and Mexico in 2026 and think about what the sport of football, what the Major League might look like. Soccer, in the years to come.”

Currently, most out-of-market MLS games air on ESPN+, but there are blackout restrictions due to certain local rights agreements. The league’s agreements with Fox Sports and ESPN expire at the end of the year. ESPN has offered games since the league began in 1996 and Fox since 2014. Garber hopes the league can strike a deal with a broadcast partner.

Even with the Apple deal, MLS has the ability to simulcast select games nationwide.

Streaming is already embedded in the DNA of football fans. The league said it found in various studies that 83% of MLS fans watch sports on streaming devices or record TV in a typical week, well above the overall average of 52% for all viewers.

What also makes the deal intriguing for Apple is that MLS has the youngest and most diverse audience compared to the other four major North American professional sports leagues.

In addition to all regular season and playoff games, the package includes all League Cup games – the competition between MLS and Mexico’s Liga MX – as well as select MLS NEXT Pro and MLS NEXT games.

Apple will also partner with MLS for game viewing as the league resumes production. It’s another step forward for the league, but it looks like the way European football leagues do business. All matches will be announced in English and Spanish while those involving Canadian clubs will also be available in French.

All matches will also be available in Full HD (1080p) for the first time. Previously, matches were broadcast in 1080i or 720p.

Garber said the league will have a more streamlined schedule starting next season, with most games played on Saturdays at 7 p.m. local time and some on Wednesdays. The only time that could change is for a national broadcast or a stadium dispute. The league will grow to 29 teams in 2023 with the debut of St. Louis CITY SC.

The deal comes as Apple is also exploring opportunities with other sports. The company continues streaming NFL games when the league’s “Sunday Ticket” expires at the end of the upcoming season.

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