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5 fundamental questions MLS must answer before Apple TV launch

questions MLS must answer before Apple TV

It’s been more than 90 days since MLS struck its deal with Apple to exclusively broadcast every game from 2023 through 2032. Since then, the league hasn’t shared any more details about its broadcast plans for next season. And with the 2023 season rapidly approaching, time is running out.

Taking the domestic US league that was primarily a TV product and shifting it to a streaming-first soccer league is a seismic change. In doing so, it’s going to take plenty of time and consumer information to help MLS sow the seeds to be a successful product on Apple TV.

Questions MLS must answer before Apple TV debut

However, questions remain. Therefore, here are the 5 fundamental questions MLS must answer before Apple TV launch:

1) Television deals

While television is a small part of Major League Soccer’s future, as of press time none of the deals have been signed for 2023 onwards. Over twelve months ago, the three channels FOX Sports, ESPN and Univision were given a window of exclusivity to renew their MLS TV rights deals. All three broadcasters were lukewarm about the renewals, delaying their decision, and thus MLS fast-forwarded their exclusive, global streaming deal with Apple.

By doing so, the trio of FOX, ESPN and Univision no longer have any exclusivity to MLS games that they may be interested in broadcasting. Not only that, but they may feel that any MLS games they do show on linear television are only going to indirectly help sell subscriptions to Apple’s MLS app.

With MLS getting into bed with Apple for an exclusive streaming deal, it creates friction between MLS and the incumbents. Each of the three broadcasters have their own streaming services (ESPN+, ViX+ and, to a lesser extent, Tubi) where they want exclusive games to show. Major League Soccer’s deal with Apple kills that possibility.

So why are the television deals our number one most fundamental question for MLS? Some fans may want to hold off on subscribing to Apple TV until they know what the TV landscape is going to look like. After all, if you can watch some of the big games on television, that may be enough for some fans. Vice versa, if the number of television choices are very minimal, that is going to incentivize fans to sign up to Apple TV.

To be frank, it’s difficult to see any upside for FOX, ESPN or Univision to broadcast MLS games. Possibly the only upside is if Major League Soccer would be willing to pay the trio of broadcasters for air-time.

2) Pricing

As we wrote about in June, the success of Apple’s groundbreaking MLS deal hinges on pricing. Without knowing how Apple is going to price the MLS App on Apple, it’s hard to get too excited about the service.

Success of Apple’s groundbreaking MLS deal hinges on pricing

Subsequently, the pricing for the MLS App on Apple TV is either going to make or break the service.

3) Commentators

No official announcement has been made about who the MLS announcers are for the 2023 season. For many soccer fans, it’s important to know who the new voices are for broadcasts of their favorite teams. With local broadcasts from regional sports networks going away for Major League Soccer, it means that we’re likely to hear a new crop of voices calling games. It’s not going to be what we’re used to. Many of them are expected to be calling games off a monitor likely from a studio in South Florida. Meanwhile, MLS plans on sending a minimal number of crews on the road to call select games from stadiums.

The bond that soccer fans form with announcers is key to helping the league grow. It’s important to have qualified commentators and co-commentators calling games. Similarly, it’s important that MLS raises the bar on its coverage by hiring the best talent available.

Whether MLS can get the hiring decisions right on commentators is questionable. In the past, the broadcasters made the hiring decisions. Now, it’s Major League Soccer’s turn. Subsequently, will MLS hire the best talent available? Or will the league hire talent that conform to what the league wants them to say instead of being open and honest about what they see?

4) Games available for free

It’s expected that many MLS games will be available for free during the first few months of the 2023 season. That’s great news for fans who want to experience the MLS App on Apple TV. It’s also anticipated that games will be available for Apple TV+ subscribers too.

Which games and how many games will be available for free are certainly important things to know ahead of the 2023 season.

5) Availability on Android devices

If you’re an Apple iPhone user, you’re going to have very few issues with the user experience of watching MLS games. However, the same cannot be said for Android users. Nationwide, Android phones account for 46% of the US phones. Just as important, 53% of Hispanics use an Android in US, so MLS is at a disadvantage next year when trying to get people to sign up for the MLS App on Apple TV.

Why is that? There is no Apple TV app for Android users. Instead, currently the only way for Android users to watch a game is on their browser (or buying an Apple TV).

The sooner Android users find out if and when the MLS App will be available via Android devices, the better.


Let’s be clear. We’re bullish about the MLS deal with Apple. It’s a big win for cord cutters who want to watch every game via streaming without the headaches of dealing with television. At the same time, we’re hoping that Major League Soccer starts communicating with the media soon, so we can get the word out to you ahead of the 2023 season.

Photo credit: IMAGO / Icon Sportswire

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  1. Tim

    October 3, 2022 at 8:33 am

    I’m really frustrated by this. Sporting KC decided last year to move back to free TV and away from Bally Sports. It was a great choice and I think expanded the number of folks able to watch soccer in KC. I’ve enjoyed hearing the local team of Nate Bukaty, Jake Peterson, and Aly Trott-Martin broadcast games. All three of them are passionate about soccer in general and Sporting KC in particular. They’ve done all of this without affecting the attendance at matches, even during a subpar season.

  2. Chris

    October 2, 2022 at 2:50 pm

    Well little chance I am going to pay extra for MLS matches next year. It was nice when it was included for other subscriptions, but it is not strong enough as a product in my opinion to be profitable as a stand alone product from Apple.

  3. JD12

    September 30, 2022 at 2:11 pm

    “MLS must answer”

    …or what?

  4. Maggie Lupton

    September 30, 2022 at 8:32 am

    I am not savvy to all of the streaming stuff so please bear with me. So if I have the phone and the App on my tv, I am set ?
    No extra charges for an extra Apple MLS app ? Also, can I still be blocked from watching every Austin game like I was on ESPN
    . because they wanted this s 70 yr old to watch it in a local bar ?

    • Christopher Harris

      September 30, 2022 at 8:45 am

      Hi Maggie, there will be extra charges to watch the game on the Apple MLS app. We just don’t know how much it’ll cost yet. But once you pay, none of the games will be blocked, so you can guarantee you’ll be able to stream every home and away game.

  5. Bram Weiser

    September 29, 2022 at 11:48 pm


    In the first paragraph, you write that the MLS-Apple deal makes Apple the exclusive broadcaster for MLS for 2023-33. (Aside: That’s 11 years…did you mean to say it ended in 2032?)

    However, is that indeed how the deal is structured, OR is it that Apple becomes just the exclusive worldwide streaming service for the league? The difference might not seem so great but, to me, it’s key because the latter leaves room for telecasters to continue to air matches even if they can’t also stream them.

    Indeed, as this article notes, there are reportedly discussions taking place toward selling some US National TV rights to run parallel to Apple’s streaming. If so, then why not also sell local/regional TV rights as before (although, of course, those local/regional telecasters wouldn’t be able to stream the matches on their services because of Apple’s superceding deal)? Being unable to bundle that with streaming rights might make that harder to do, but I don’t know that it’s impossible, either due to contractual restrictions in the Apple deal, or to reluctance on the part of the telecasters.

    Of course, I’ve not seen the deal myself, and have just read various reports about it, but I don’t see why, even if at a reduced price in some form, MLS would be enjoined from setting up a TV/streaming combination although, this time around, with Apple’s streaming taking priority as opposed to ESPN, Fox and Univision’s TV (or the local/regional telecasters’) doing so.

    Not having a similar TV component starting in 2023 is an “unforced error” for MLS, and I hope that they rectify it before next season begins.

    Bram Weiser

    • Christopher Harris

      September 30, 2022 at 8:09 am

      Hi Bram, as of right now, Apple is the only broadcaster who has acquired the rights to show MLS for 2023 through 2032 (not, 2033 – my mistake). We’re expecting MLS to secure deals with FOX, Univision and ESPN. But that was supposed to happen this summer, but those deals still haven’t been finalized. Apple has the exclusive streaming rights for all MLS games for 10 years, and will be streaming every single game even if/when FOX, ESPN and Univision shows select games on TV.

      MLS could do a 180 degree turn and offer local rights for a limited period. But they’ve already told all of the teams that the local rights end this season.

      • Bram Weiser

        September 30, 2022 at 1:09 pm

        Thank you for responding, Chris, and for correcting the mistake.

        Yes, getting all the pieces in place has proven to be more daunting for MLS and the various media companies involved than many thought (expected? hoped?) at the outset, especially with the long lead time after MLS declared that local rights would revert to the league after this season so that everything could perhaps be sold as a block (which, at least on the streaming side, is what happened with Apple).

        My hope — and I’d like to think there are some…or many…others out there who feel similarly — is that local/regional TV rights (and national as well) WILL be sold, and not on a “limited” basis, just as they always have been since the league began in 1996, with streaming rights maintained by Apple. For those of us who don’t stream, and would prefer to watch the matches on a true TV platform that’s easy to access (as happens now, for example), doing otherwise is a back-of-the-hand from MLS, and is something that they can ill afford to do given how their oft-analyzed (including on WST podcasts) ratings have been tracking.

        They’d be harming themselves as those “cord-keepers”(?) among us find other things to occupy our time and energy. If they don’t want us, why should we want them, and support them with our money (e.g., game tickets, merchandise, exposure to in-game ads from sponsors, etc.)?

        The only thing truly standing in the way of this happening — again, presuming that the Apple deal doesn’t explicitly forbid it — is MLS’s intransigence, which I hope that they learn to outgrow…and do so sooner rather than later.

        Bram Weiser (Long-time MLS fan and Supporters Club member)

        • dave

          September 30, 2022 at 4:10 pm

          Bram, I hope something works out for long-term MLS supporters such as yourself. I believe MLS maintained licensing rights for any game to any linear provider anywhere in the world. But it is a complex situation:
          * MLS and Apple share profits after “enough” subscriptions are sold; the more people who are content with linear offerings, the less money MLS gets from the Apple deal and the less likely Apple is to be happy with the MLS partnership
          * Much of the value of sports rights to linear providers comes from exclusivity. An RSN can often command $15 per month because local fans have no other option. But if fans can watch every game on Apple for $5 per month, the RSN loses leverage and is thus less interested in (and much less willing to pay for) non-exclusive rights
          If you are a big MLS fan, you may want to consider dipping a toe even if you prefer linear. Roku Express 4k is ~$30 and you can connect it to the HDMI port on any TV and stream using your home wireless. There is no monthly fee for Roku, and almost every streaming service has a Roku app. Roku is easy to set up and use

          • Bram Weiser

            September 30, 2022 at 9:27 pm

            Thanks, @dave.

            FWIW, even if less money would come in from Apple, there’d still (hopefully) be a license/rights fee from telecasters like usual, so I’m not necessarily convinced that adding telecasters to the mix would mean a dip in total revenue for MLS. That, plus it’s possible that the telecasters would be taking the Apple TV feed as opposed to producing their own, so maybe some of the savings would be “converted” into rights fees, instead?

            There’d also STILL be exclusivity over-the-air to any telecaster…they’d just lose out on the streaming component that they had in the current deal. RSN deals have had streaming components, too (e.g., MSG, which is the local/regional telecaster for the NY Red Bulls, streams their games on MSG Go, etc.), but they’d have to give that up in any potential new deal.

            Lastly, unless I’m mistaken, that Roku device doesn’t solve the need (for now at least) to pay Apple for its feed, etc. It’d just potentially solve how to show that feed on a TV screen instead of a computer or mobile device.

            Thanks again,
            Bram Weiser

            • dave

              September 30, 2022 at 11:47 pm

              You are correct, Roku just makes it easy to stream on your TV. You still need to pay for anything behind a paywall. Apple had a lot of free games when they launched MLB and will likely do the same with MLS. TBD
              The issue for linear is that MLS regular season ratings often range between mediocre and poor even with exclusivity. Apple will likely pick up a decent chunk of the most passionate MLS fans, placing further downward pressure on MLS’ linear viewership
              I suspect this article is a bit tongue in cheek when suggesting MLS might need to pay broadcasters to carry games. But the broader question of how much ROI remains in nonexclusive MLS linear is fair. Even if free, broadcasters have opportunity cost of programming with potentially higher ad revenues that could be in those time slots

              • Bram Weiser

                October 3, 2022 at 2:22 am

                Thanks again, @dave.

                I’m not disagreeing about the merit of the question. I’m just saying that for MLS to decide, as it seems they might have, to forego ANY local/regional TV coverage (and even at least some on the national level, too) is short-sighted and a big mistake.

                Also, respectfully, more likely goes into decisions of what to broadcast, and when than “opportunity costs”.

                Maybe there’s nothing readily available that will get them more ratings (or higher advertising revenues) on weekend afternoons or evenings for the money they’d spend on MLS…

                Maybe they sense soccer as “a sport on the rise” and are willing to swallow several years of losses on the programming in order to be in a good spot (e.g., rightsholder of some content when WC26 comes around, for example) when they’d then be able (hopefully) to do better than they might do now…

                …or maybe the big shots at the network just like the sport…

                …but to simply do without so-called “linear” coverage while going all-in on streaming, is to decide that those of us who aren’t interested in getting our programming that way have money that the league can easily do without…and even the NFL isn’t making that decision, not for the next 11 years at least, so why would MLS?

                Bram Weiser

                • Roberto

                  October 3, 2022 at 7:17 am

                  Bran, Let us hope the decision to go all streaming is not final

                • dave

                  October 3, 2022 at 10:11 am

                  @Bram, enjoyable exchange, I hope they implement something that works for you
                  NFL TV viewership is one or two orders of magnitude bigger than MLS, so they are apples and oranges. That said, the way NFL implemented exclusive streaming on Prime was smart. Prime began as a nonexclusive TNF partner with OTA/linear simulcasts for a few years, then became exclusive TNF (of course, at a much higher cost to Amazon)
                  TNF is by far the least important national NFL game and is available OTA in local teams’ markets. So, in its foray into streaming-only, the NFL took limited risk in exchange for significant cash and meaningful upside opportunities. That TNF Prime is off to such a strong start makes the deal look even better
                  All the points raised by you and the article strike me as things MLS should have worked out before inking the deal with Apple. I have a strong sense the NFL drove its negotiations and minimized risk to the NFL. In contrast, I see MLS taking a big risk for modest guaranteed pay. But it may still all work out fine. Time will tell

                • Bram Weiser

                  October 3, 2022 at 12:02 pm

                  Thanks @Roberto and @dave (same here 🙂 ).

                  One point I’d mention about your post about Prime, though, @dave, as you noted later…those games aren’t entirely exclusive to streaming — local markets of the participating teams can, and do, sell local telecast rights to a station in each of those markets so as to air it there on broadcast television. Thus, the games aren’t available only on streaming, which is a key difference with how MLS’s 2023 plans are currently laid out.

                  As the NFL is decidedly more popular than MLS at present (and likely will be for some time yet to come), I presume that they foresaw a kind of “rebellion” among its fans if they dared to offer meaningful games (e.g., in-season or playoffs) only via streaming. MLS, however, which is in greater need of “evangelizing” its product and earning revenue than that other “football” league would be, feels differently.

                  You’re right, @dave, time surely will tell. My hope, as yours, is that they’ll come to their senses before February, and the regular season games that begin Apple’s new deal, are here. We’ll see if that happens, or if a number of us will be finding other ways to occupy our time.

                  Thanks again,
                  Bram Weiser

  6. DiRT

    September 29, 2022 at 9:30 pm

    You know, YOU KNOW, Apple wanted $29.99 a year for a MLS package, at minimum. Once they put the crack pipe down, someone tried to reason with them. They’ll instead have some sort of “$6.99 for the first year, $19.99 every year after if you sign up in the first 30 days, but $14.99 after the first year and $24.99 every year after if you don’t sign up RIGHT NOW! NOW! DO IT NOW!”

    But then it’ll be so lowly adopted at that price point, it’ll turn into “Buy an Apple TV, iPhone, or iPad and get 3 years of MLS FOR FREE!!”

  7. David the Yank

    September 29, 2022 at 8:22 pm

    I agree with the content of the article (save for watching Apple TV+ on Android, which works just fine). I don’t quite understand the urgency. No one will even think about this til next season. Like a week before is just fine!

  8. dave

    September 29, 2022 at 6:35 pm

    I agree it is surprising that so little is buttoned down. Apple usually deliver; I suspect they will get it sorted on time. Perhaps in a future article you can expand on “To be frank, it’s difficult to see any upside for FOX, ESPN or Univision to broadcast MLS games”
    I find the MLS-Univision-Telemundo dynamic intriguing. I can see your perspective about potentially low OTA interest in simulcasting Apple for MLS regular season. Univision and NBC will likely not want to help Apple become more prominent in the Hispanic market
    That said, Leagues Cup and MLS playoffs are valuable Spanish OTA rights (Apple simulcast or produced separately by OTA). Telemundo may want to be the OTA home of Chivas in Leagues Cup. Univision may want to remain the OTA home for championships. This could give MLS and Apple leverage in negotiations. I am curious to see how it resolves

  9. Mark

    September 29, 2022 at 3:26 pm

    If it costs more than the premiere league on Peacock, forget about it. Apple is notorious for gouging its cultish herd of drones… I’ll be astonished if they price this competitively.

    • Chris

      October 2, 2022 at 2:55 pm

      And even Peacock has transitioned the big games to USA. Not sure this is a smart move by MLS or Apple. With new markets like St. Louis starting OTA broadcasts would be critical to growing the clubs brand. This really minimizes that clubs chance to grow to be honest.

  10. Mccort912

    September 29, 2022 at 2:29 pm

    I am assuming for #5 you are taking about mobile android devices? I have a Sony Android TV and it has an Apple TV app, I also have an Nvidia Shield Pro that uses Android TV and the Apple TV is also available, I use it all the time.

  11. KW

    September 29, 2022 at 1:36 pm

    Just to note, there are a lot streaming devices that are compatible with the Apple TV app that aren’t owned by Apple: Android TV, Roku, Google TV, Fire TV, Smart TVs, Xbox, PS, etc.
    But I agree, they should come out with an Android app. Streaming via browsers works but is not ideal.

  12. UnitedFan 3478

    September 29, 2022 at 1:03 pm

    If the MLS were to have games on linear television, could CBS take over rather than Fox?

    • Chris Guardiano

      September 29, 2022 at 10:57 pm

      @United Fan 3478, CBS isn’t that interested in MLS mainly because they have the Champions League & the NWSL they will show on OTA CBS. They also aren’t too keen on giving Apple new subscribers for the MLS app.

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