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Apple TV+ and MLS: A match made in soccer heaven

Apple TV+ and MLS

This week’s report that Apple TV+ is interested in acquiring MLS media rights shouldn’t come as a surprise. Two years ago, the streaming service added a former Amazon executive to lead its foray into live sports. Coupled with their recent acquisition of baseball rights, the potential acquisition of MLS rights would be an ideal way for Apple TV+ to tiptoe into soccer.

With Apple TV+ never streaming soccer before, there’s a lot to unpack here.

Consumer education is key

First, one of the biggest myths about Apple TV+ is that you need an Apple phone or device to watch any of its programming. This isn’t true. However, it is a lesson that MLS and Apple TV+ need to address. If you remember the streaming service called PlayStation Vue, one of the major reasons it died was because consumers thought you needed a PlayStation to watch it.

Apple TV+ isn’t going out of business like PlayStation Vue did. If Apple signs the deal with MLS, the two will need to work together on a communications strategy to educate soccer fans.

Another streaming service to consider

Second, streaming fatigue is an issue, and it’s only going to get worse. Soccer fans, for the most part, are content with having ESPN+, Paramount+ and a cable alternative such as fuboTV or Sling. Beyond that, consumers start to complain that there are too many streaming services.

Fans of MLS clubs, in particular, are already fatigued when it comes to viewing options. Research compiled by World Soccer Talk shows that MLS is one of the most expensive soccer leagues to watch. If MLS agrees a deal with Apple TV+, the league will lose fans who want to watch games on traditional cable or over-the-air television. In a recent World Soccer Talk poll, only 6% of respondents selected Apple TV+ as their preference in the next MLS media rights deal.

Match made in heaven

Issues aside, the marriage of Apple TV+ and MLS is a match made in heaven. Major League Soccer desperately needs to raise its revenue from media rights. With FOX Sports uninterested, and tepid interest from ESPN, Warner Bros/Discovery is the only other major player on the English-language side that’s shown keen interest. Competition for media rights is vital. And it always helps when a company such as Apple (with a cash balance of $203 billion) enters the bidding. On the Spanish-language side, MLS continues to be strong due in large part to interest from TelevisaUnivision.

Another major benefit of MLS teaming up with Apple TV+ is metrics. For far too long, Major League Soccer has been on the receiving end of criticism about its mediocre TV viewing numbers. Signing a deal with Apple will eliminate the bad press. At the end of the day, Apple is focused on increasing the number of subscriptions to Apple TV+. Very little attention will be paid to viewing numbers. And even then, those viewing numbers won’t be made public.

Apple TV+ on the rise

With the addition of Major League Baseball games and the prospect of MLS, Apple TV+ has a lot to offer. The streaming service is building out a strong portfolio of shows. For instance, Ted Lasso has been a critical hit. Apple TV+’s Coda just won the Oscar for Best Picture. And shows such as Severance and The Morning Show have been well received.

Overall, Apple TV+ signing a deal with Major League Soccer would provide the league with a much-needed revenue boost. At the same time, it gives the streaming service more of an opportunity to get up to speed on soccer, while growing its subscriber base. Both MLS and Apple TV+ need each other. Just as MLS was a trailblazer when it became available on ESPN+ when it first launched, MLS can be the first soccer league to test the waters with Apple TV+.

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  1. David K.

    April 20, 2022 at 5:30 pm

    I like MLS but not enough to add an Apple TV + subscription just to watch MLS. As far as I know there are no other sports on AT+ including other soccer leagues. ESPN+, Paramount+, and even Peacock have other soccer leagues or sports in general, making them a good value. MLS is not a competition that can drive subscriptions on its own, unlike the Premier League or Champions League.

    • David K.

      April 20, 2022 at 5:31 pm

      I realize now that AT+ has some MLB. Not enough to move the needle without more soccer properties.

  2. Ra

    April 20, 2022 at 3:08 pm

    Enjoying the German Cup today. I always have a good laugh when people say that you must have cable to watch something… Sc* ESPN for not putting it on ESPN3.

  3. Jasinho

    April 18, 2022 at 7:38 pm

    There is a hot rumor going around that Apple TV+ is about to get a certain lucrative contract that involves the National Handegg League.

    • dave

      April 19, 2022 at 4:42 pm

      @Jasinho, Sunday Ticket and Apple seem like a good match to me; both are generally in the affordable luxury space. There is probably not much growth potential for Sunday Ticket and DTV reportedly loses money on the current deal. Apple can easily afford a negative direct ROI in exchange for a prestige item intended to drive halo effect benefits.

      • JP

        April 19, 2022 at 4:55 pm

        NFL Redzone effectively made Sunday Ticket obsolete. Gamblers and fantasy league zealots (let’s be honest, that was always the majority of the market for Sunday Ticket) get all their scoring updates at a cheaper cost and available across more platforms than DTV.

        • dave

          April 19, 2022 at 5:33 pm

          @JP, I agree, and RedZone will continue to be available through many entities at a low (often incrementally zero) cost. There is a meaningful bar business for Sunday Ticket, but it is often a prestige purchase in the individual market. Apple’s core customer has money to burn, and I suspect Sunday Ticket is one of many tactics to sustain the association of Apple with “premium product”.

        • Mercator

          April 19, 2022 at 6:33 pm

          I don’t think this is the case. It’s really the only way to watch your out of market team on Sundays. For idiot Steelers fans living in California and the like, they happily shell out whatever it takes to be able to watch every Pittsburg game. This is the best thing Apple could buy – its US football, they don’t need a broadcast or cable network like any other NFL agreement would require, they don’t have to produce any of the games, they are getting the majority of games every week, and they can charge as much or as little as they want. There is massive growth potential here. If they offer an annual ATV+ subscription at say $60-$100 which includes Sunday Ticket, they will get 10+ million new subscribers. Even if they charge DTV rates, they have twice as many subscribers already as DTV, they will reach a significantly larger market.

          • dave

            April 19, 2022 at 7:07 pm

            Apple TV+ without NFL is $50 per year. Is your proposal that Apple TV+ charge $10-$50 per year incremental for Sunday Ticket? Cutting price by around 90% (Sunday Ticket is $300-$400 per year now)? Perhaps I misunderstood your idea.

            • Mercator

              April 19, 2022 at 8:14 pm

              I think they can price it anywhere between $0 and $400, depending on whether they want to prioritize immediate returns or new subscribers. Either way, Sunday Ticket on Apple TV+ reaches a way bigger audience than DTV. If they prioritize immediate revenue they can certainly make more on it than DTV did, and if they prioritize subscriber growth a low or 0 price would bring in tens of millions of subscribers. The NFL season is only 4 months though, so I expect they would tie it to an annual subscription regardless of what they do (I would think for apple a subscriber for a year + $370 is better than a subscriber for 4 months + $400 for example).

              If they do prioritize subscriber growth and charge a low or nominal fee, it would immediately make ATV+ into a top streaming option. It would be the cheapest place to get Redzone (no cable required) and would probably be the default Sunday watching for half the country. Sunday Ticket is only a niche product because its $400 on DTV. If it were $50-100 on ATV, it wouldn’t be niche, tens of millions of people would happily subscribe solely for the NFL. I don’t have Sunday ticket now and would never consider getting DTV or paying $400 for it. But if it were $100 for ATV+ and Sunday Ticket, I would absolutely get it and I would absolutely do all my NFL watching with Apple, as would 90% of the men I know.

              It’s also the ideal platform for every buzzword industry surrounding sports: gambling, data analytics, the meta verse, whatever. Point being I think for a low or cheap fee they would get something like 10-30 million new subscribers and be in every home, associated with the one thing that still seems to be broadly popular among all parts of American society. It would be a complete game changer for ATV and this is exactly what Apple’s competitive strength in streaming is – they can spend billions on a premium product and use that for growth without needing to impose a high price to get immediate revenue.

              • dave

                April 19, 2022 at 8:47 pm

                Thanks for the extra detail – it is an interesting perspective. You are probably aware that Sunday Ticket has a league-mandated blackout for games on local affiliates. Apple respects IP for good reason, so they would likely spend time and money to defeat basic blackout workarounds.
                The areas of strongest alignment between our perspectives are “It’s also the ideal platform for every buzzword industry surrounding sports” and “they can spend billions on a premium product and use that for growth without needing to impose a high price to get immediate revenue”. I would swap in “strategic purposes” for “growth”, but we agree Apple has the luxury of zero short-term ROI pressure. It will be fun to follow if rumors are true.

  4. Mario Garcia

    April 16, 2022 at 10:35 pm

    I hope Apple pays them the 300M they want. Certainly Apple has the money and all the teams (including my local one) will benefit from the extra money.

    I for one will likely subscribe at least for 1 month to try; have been hearing very good comments about how Apple has treated Baseball.

  5. Theo

    April 16, 2022 at 1:38 am

    I have no problem with this as long as it’s not region lock like Amazon cuz I had Amazon for this reason cuz I wanted to watch MLS games cuz I’m a fan of the league but most of the games were region locked so I hope they allow you to watch the game and wherever you are in the world or in the country and I think this will work a lot more people will get apple TV for this reason

  6. locofooty

    April 15, 2022 at 2:53 pm

    I’m not signing up to AppleTV+ to watch MLS. Y’all crazy lol

    • Ra

      April 15, 2022 at 3:03 pm

      Agree. It might not be good for the Apple brand as well. If you want your brand to be seen as premium, it will do it no good to link it to mediocrity. They are hiring the biggest stars to do their shows and movies, and now they would broadcast a league where players are unfriendly to the ball?

      • Buckles

        April 15, 2022 at 7:58 pm

        It’s the American top flight soccer league so it does mean something to Apple as Apple is an American company. I think you are being a bit harsh on MLS. I find some of the games highly entertaining. Is it El Classico? Of course not. But if you take away the top teams of any of the top 4 leagues, you aren’t going to get such great soccer. If you only want to watch highly paid superstars, then obviously MLS isn’t going to be for you. I’ve watched mid to bottom teams from premier, La liga, series a, and bundesliga. I’m sure you have also. MLS is not that far off from that. In fact, a game between MLS top teams is better than that.
        If what you are saying is that this deal is better for MLS than it is for Apple, you are probably right. MLS has many challenges other leagues don’t have. However, if this is a streaming only deal that doesn’t involve a linear outlet, I do think MLS will hurt itself in the long run. They need to be on a major cable/television network. Many casual fans won’t pay to see it on tv.

        • Ra

          April 15, 2022 at 8:55 pm

          I am not saying it is horrible, but it is average at best (=mediocre). It is clearly not the standard Apple set for itself. Also, ATV+ is a global product. There is hardly any utility for MLS outside of the USA.
          This is actually a great question for MLS to answer- do they have any global aspirations? I’ve ESPN carry those matches is SA, but they charge almost nothing and they offer MLS+NFL+MLB in addition to EPL and most EU top flights for a very modest price. So, probably they are doing MLS a favor.

          • Buckles

            April 15, 2022 at 9:43 pm

            I would prefer to see them stay on ESPN, not bc I’m crazy about ESPN, but bc they would get more exposure than being on, what is right now, a niche product like appleTV. Also, ESPN hopefully would include matches on ABC.
            NBC would be the best fit bc I think they have a little more space to fill, but I don’t think they are going to get involved with MLS again.
            MLS does have global deals in place now. Idk how many people in Europe or Asia are watching MLS though. I would assume not many.
            I have a feeling Warner/Discovery will be involved somehow, but again that would mean no over the air partner.
            Like you said, it’s not horrible. I like watching scrappy players who aren’t millionaires play hard. Some games can be hard to watch but I want MLS to succeed. I do think there is value for the American player and for the national team.
            I really hope they don’t screw this media deal up.

  7. jason

    April 15, 2022 at 9:21 am

    I have a “only pay for one streaming service at a time” policy. The D plus/Espn plus/hulu is that for me now. Wife like hulu, kids like disney plus and i like marvel and star wars too.

    If MLS leaves ESPN, then I won’t be watching it anymore.

    • dave

      April 15, 2022 at 9:51 am

      @jason, your anecdote is consistent with a profile implicit in the Kantar research. Do you augment with free and ad-supported (e.g., Prende/ViX, Pluto, Roku Channel, etc.)?
      I suspect a driver of the Disney Bundle (and its push onto every Hulu Live subscription) is that many households consider it as one paid service that checks many boxes rather than three narrower paid services. Churn may be a bigger problem for new, niche entrants.

      • jason

        April 16, 2022 at 8:23 am

        Agree for sure with you Dave. Good point about the ad supported free stuff. We do turn on Tubi and Pluto on occassion. Most of all…Youtube. Where you get highlights of pretty much everything. But YT has Russian Premier League games also. And best of all the US soccer commentary community…11 Yanks, Tactical Manager TV, Best Soccer Show, Soccer OG, Yank Report, FifAmerica, Stright Red Card….

        • Ra

          April 16, 2022 at 10:18 am

          Anything Russian is banned in my household for good. Stop this coward war!

    • dave

      April 19, 2022 at 4:30 pm

      @jason, Axios ran an article (19-APR) about the “doomed” CNN+. Discovery see competitive advantage in selling one broad subscription rather than several niche subscriptions:
      “Discovery’s experience launching niche subscriptions services, like GolfTV and its Food Network Kitchen App, has informed its strategy to focus on one scaled general entertainment offering around HBO Max, instead of more niche services that have to compete with big apps for subscriber cash.”
      I also read that niche streaming is having a rough time in the UK due to cost pressures (inflation in food, fuel, etc). Netflix and Amazon are reportedly most immune (in the UK)

  8. Kyle

    April 14, 2022 at 6:34 pm

    If AppleTV does get this deal, would Taylor Twellman be more suited to going to Turner as the “voice” of US Soccer? Or would he better off staying at ESPN and commentating on Bundesliga, La liga games and potentially doing more with ESPN FC?

    • Buckles

      April 14, 2022 at 6:42 pm

      That guy is insufferable. Hope he stays far away from any soccer. .

      • Footballer

        April 15, 2022 at 3:07 am

        What makes Taylor Twellman so “insufferable” if you can elaborate further ? I genuinely want to hear your insight about him.

        What is your take on Alexis Lalas? Hercules Gomez? Stu Holden? Alex Moreno?

        • Buckles

          April 15, 2022 at 10:11 am

          Talks too much. We don’t have to hear a comment about everything going on. Sometimes a moment in the game speaks for itself. I actually like Alexi Lalas. I agree with a lot of his insights on the game. Enjoyed him as a player also. Hercules I could take or leave. He’s all about hot takes. Not crazy about the ESPN guys in general. Moreno is ok.
          As I’ve said before, for me, announcers aren’t a deal breaker. I’m there to watch the game.

          • Footballer

            April 15, 2022 at 10:42 am

            Interesting. Thanks for your insight.

            Personally, I prefer Twellman over Alexis Lala’s and 100X on Sunday. He makes it too obvious he likes the attention and wants to be “controversial”, Meh!

            Hercules Gomez, he needs more polishing for on camera personality.

            Stu Holden rubs me off the wrong way with his adolescent/ puberty voice.

            Alejandro Moreno, he is just a blabbermouth clown at times.

        • J

          April 15, 2022 at 2:31 pm

          On Twellman:
          I have very little issue with analyst role. Seldom does he give “ridiculous” takes to stir the pot. I may not always agree, but his opinions are in the realm of genuine and “reasonable”

          My problem with Twellman is in his color commentary/match call. He is generally fine from the “message” he wants to convey (which gets back to more of the first point).. But i find that he does deliver that message well. His commentary is agonizingly repetitive (ie the use and inflection of the word “Absolutely”) and his in game commentary usually ends up being feigned excitement, that i just dont enjoy hearing. It always feels forced.

        • jason

          April 16, 2022 at 8:26 am

          Hercules Gomez is my favorite for sure. Plus he goes on the indie channels on youtube like Tactical Manager, JJD Tv, and 11 Yanks.

  9. Yespage

    April 14, 2022 at 3:45 pm

    Apple+… and MLS… a match made in heaven? MLS getting anyone to pay them for their product is a great deal for MLS.

    But for Apple? The article lacks in presentation of how this benefits Apple in any way, other than weak juxtaposition with a television program. When someone thinks of prized streaming properties to obtain, the MLS has to be just above Pakistan League Cricket. Apple+ won’t see a notable increase with the acquiring of MLS. Getting the MLS won’t increase Apple+’s stature as a streaming service.

    • Christopher Harris

      April 14, 2022 at 3:51 pm

      FYI, today’s podcast episode goes into more details about the benefits for Apple TV+ – which is embedded into the article.

  10. UnitedFan 3478

    April 14, 2022 at 3:45 pm

    Apple TV+ sounds good. Peacock should also get the MLS rights too.

    • Kj

      April 14, 2022 at 7:09 pm

      I wouldn’t be surprised in that massive deal NBC singed, that there is some clause preventing them such a venture.

  11. dave

    April 14, 2022 at 3:28 pm

    On 26 January 2022, Kantar published research on the US streaming market. Worth the time to google and read for those interested. A few quotes from the public executive summary that may be relevant to MLS/Apple TV+:
    * “The proportion of U.S. households who have a video subscription has risen to 85%…there are now 109.4 million households with subscriptions as of December 2021”
    * “Video streaming quarter-on-quarter penetration growth is primarily coming from Free Ad-Supported TV (FAST) and Advertising-based Video On Demand (AVoD) tiers”
    * “Stacking continues to grow among current streamers. The average household now uses 4.7 services”
    * “Live streaming sports is still relatively new in the streaming world…With most sports still being watched on live TV, sports content is not a growing driver of sign up for the platforms that do offer sports”
    * “19% of Apple TV+ users say they plan to cancel their subscription in Q1 2022”
    Much of the Kantar report is consistent with comments by @greg; households tend to have many interests, select services that check many boxes, and cancel services that become redundant or niche. Sports is a driver of box checking for some households but not often the sole factor. This suggests caution in interpreting “incremental cost” analyses.

  12. greg

    April 14, 2022 at 12:56 pm

    MLS hitching their wagon to Apple would be monumentally stupid, but on par with the way they run the league.

    And again, the “most expensive” league to watch analysis has a fundamentally flawed premise – you assume that people are only paying for soccer. I’d bet that most people here even, hardly a representative sample of soccer viewers in the US, watch nothing but soccer. To calculate what you pay for watching your favorite league(s) you have to amortize in the costs of anything else you watch on the services that carry your leagues.

  13. Mercator

    April 14, 2022 at 11:49 am

    It says a portion of the rights which is the worst of all worlds, just one more thing you need to pay for to watch the games. You already need cable and ESPN+, now add apple to the mix and its just another $5 surcharge. It will be a more confusing and more expensive experience for fans.
    Now if they sold Apple TV+ ALL MLS games, that would be great. Sell it all to ESPN, Warner, or Amazon – they would do great as well. Just have ONE broadcaster though, multiple broadcasters is expensive and confusing for fans.

  14. JP

    April 14, 2022 at 11:31 am

    Probably the worst outcome for MLS if AppleTV+ get the majority of the package. Amazon would be better if they want to go an entire streaming route, as would ESPN+ and even Peacock or Paramount+ (if they finally get DVR controls enabled).

    If it’s just for one night/match similar to their MLB deal, then bad for MLS fans. Would just mean more fragmentation and services needed to watch all matches (if that’s what the fan wants).

  15. Jasinho

    April 14, 2022 at 10:49 am

    I do have an Apple TV, but as a primarily Android and Chromecast user I think MLS would miss a certain portion of the population that has android devices. Would this lead to Samsung and other android devices having an ATV+ app in the future?

    If this comes to fruition, MLS will have a whole series of PSAs.

    • Ra

      April 14, 2022 at 2:44 pm

      You can install ATV+ on the google Chromecast with remote. No app for mobile devices though.

  16. Leo

    April 14, 2022 at 10:47 am

    I hope MLS goes to Apple TV+ or Amazon. No more ESPN+ price increases, and who knows, maybe a discount in the horizon of ESPN+. Ligue 1 or Copa Libertadores instead os MLS would be great for ESPN+ as well.

    • Buckles

      April 14, 2022 at 11:20 am

      So you think Amazon or Apple TV won’t increase their prices? They all do and they will.

      • greg

        April 14, 2022 at 12:50 pm

        Amazon *just announced* a price increase from $119 to $139. In 2014 it went from $79 to $99, in 2018 it went $99 to $119. So lately every 4 years they raise $20. And in France, where they got a Ligue 1 package, they added a surcharge to watch the matches. They also have add-on fees in the US for things like ad-free IMDB-TV (they own IDMB). So yeah, to assume Amazon or Apple won’t increase prices is wishful thinking.

  17. David van den Berg

    April 14, 2022 at 10:22 am

    Does it make more sense for Apple to get the full set of MLS rights- essentially the existing ESPN & Fox packages along with what are now the local in-market broadcasts (which would seem to render the current out of market streaming package ESPN + has obsolete) MLS Next Pro, Leagues Cup and everything else – or just a piece or some pieces of it as part of a multi rights holder group with ESPN or Turner/Warner Media or anyone else? What’s best for MLS & it’s fans?

  18. The Auditor

    April 14, 2022 at 10:19 am

    So we have many posts on this site talking about the lack of viewership and such for MLS, but now Christopher Harris thinks MLS can help grow AppleTV’s subscriber base? And compares MLS to AppleTV’s most-watched properties, which have some of Hollywood’s biggest stars? So we are considering MLS to drive subscriptions in a way that Jennifer Aniston, Steve Carell, and Oscar-winning movies do? If that’s the case why would every other outlet show such tepid interest?

    And how do you know AppleTV will pay more than cable/broadcast TV outlets?

    Does anyone think moving behind paywalls is a good way to grow a fanbase? AppleTV has20-25mln subscribers – a mere fraction of the homes ESPN/FOX/CBS is in. I’m struggling to understand how this makes sense.

    • Lovac1

      April 14, 2022 at 10:56 am

      MLS will grow Apple’s subscribers because there is a bunch of MLS fans who will sign up for Apple tv to see their team (assuming local tv rights are involved). That is the bottom line for apple. It’s also true that MLS viewing numbers overall would go down because casual fans wouldn’t subscribe. Maybe MLS doesn’t care if they can get their money from apple.

  19. Stephen

    April 14, 2022 at 10:08 am

    Broken record here but you can’t get new people enthusiastic when they decide to tune into the start of the season in August (to watch alongside their SerieA/PL/Bundesliga etc) only to find out it’s almost finished.

    • Buckles

      April 14, 2022 at 11:22 am

      Appletv is fine but MLS also needs a linear component and consistent days and start times.

      • Kei

        June 14, 2022 at 1:04 pm

        I can see fully why MLS would want to shirk from that criticism after so many years of it, but the idea that they could go so far to shirk from it as to hide the viewing numbers altogether feels utterly damning.

        I’m entirely unsure as to what’s in it for Apple in this deal, other than another loss leader.

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