English-language incumbents FOX Sports and ESPN were lukewarm about renewing MLS TV rights. ESPN didn’t place a bid for the streaming rights. Meanwhile, WarnerMedia lost interest after they secured the rights to the US National teams.
In the end, though, MLS found a partner to take its distribution and revenue to the next level.
The pressure was intense. In a competitive market where we saw both the Premier League and LaLiga secure record-breaking deals in the United States last year, MLS had found itself in a very difficult position. With the incumbents showing less gusto than what they did in 2015 when they secured the deal, it was key for MLS to find a new, outside partner.
In Apple, they not only found one in a deal worth $2.5 billion over 10 years, but they secured it with the second most valuable company in the world.
Global rights for Apple’s MLS deal is a concern
Apple TV is, in many ways, the perfect partner for MLS. For Apple, having global rights to every single game on its platform provides the tech giant something that no other league can provide. A complete monopoly over streaming worldwide. But it’s also a forward-thinking move by Apple. The tech giant knows that World Cup 2026 will generate a whole new generation of soccer fans who will consume media on their devices. Also, the carrot at the end of the stick is Lionel Messi, who will likely join a MLS team in the next two years, only further boosting the popularity of the sport, and making the streaming exclusivity even more attractive to Apple.
Considering the future upside and what the value of sports rights will be in ten years, Apple have gotten a deal. Two-hundred and fifty million dollars per year sounds like a lot of money. But by the time MLS makes Las Vegas the 30th franchise, that’s roughly $8.3 million per team. And that doesn’t factor in the production costs that MLS is incurring to bring games to streaming now that the local television contracts are gone.
At the same time, MLS has short-changed itself. Yes, signing Apple to a decade-long contract is a major milestone. Plus don’t forget that the league expects to finalize the linear television contracts in the coming weeks. However, how much appetite will the television networks have when they know that they won’t have exclusivity to the games that air on TV?
More so, Apple signing a global deal means that Major League Soccer is going to have a very difficult time convincing television networks overseas to pay top dollar for the rights to the games. After all, why pay maximum price when viewers worldwide can watch the game via the MLS app in Apple TV?
A win for cord cutters
Major League Soccer’s deal with Apple is a victory for the consumer. It means more access, plus no blackouts, as well as the benefit of whiparound shows and a more consistent schedule. Three years after the Bundesliga signed an exclusive agreement with ESPN+ to stream games, MLS is prioritizing cord cutting as the way to watch the league. For sure, it is a risk for the league, but it’s the right move at a time when the league needed a boost in revenue from a new media rights deal.
However, Apple’s insistence on a global deal gave the tech giant leverage in the negotiations. Apple executives would have known the difficult position MLS found itself in, and the Cupertino-based company took full advantage.
Without the tech giant, the outlook for the new MLS media rights deal would have been dim. With it, the future for cord cutters, the league’s finances and the growth of Apple TV is a win-win-win — even if MLS may ultimately feel shortchanged.
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