Apple embraces sports streaming potential with MLS deal

CUPERTINO, Calif. (AP) — After taking its first steps into sports streaming last year, Apple is now immersing itself.

The tech giant kicked off a 10-year partnership with Major League Soccer on Wednesday with the launch of the Season Pass on Apple TV+.

” Its very important for us. It’s one of the main things we’re doing this year and for the next 10 years. We are now part of a family together,” Apple CEO Tim Cook said during a presentation for MLS players, owners and media at Apple Park last month.

Apple’s launch comes after a year of transformation for sports and streaming services. The NFL embraced streaming again last year as Prime Video aired “Thursday Night Football” and Major League Baseball partnered with Apple TV and Peacock to broadcast games. The NFL has also reached an agreement with Google’s YouTube TV to offer the “Sunday Ticket” package starting next season.

Tech companies and broadcasters also see the value in live sports programming. According to a recent report by Parks Associates, revenue from sports streaming subscription packages is expected to grow 73% to $22.6 billion in 2027 after generating $13.1 billion last year.

In the era of cord-cutting, tech companies, advertisers, and sports leagues are also finding that young viewers continue to migrate to streaming and watch for long periods of time.

According to Amazon tracking data, 22% of viewers of “Thursday Night Football” on Prime Video fell into the coveted 18-34 age bracket, compared to 14% of viewers who watched NFL games on linear networks.

The average watch time for “Thursday Night” games was 85 minutes, nine minutes longer than games not on Prime.

Apple’s association with MLS makes sense for both parties. Various studies have shown that football fans are more likely to watch sports on streaming devices or recorded TV shows.

“This is an agreement that expresses the direction things have been going for some time and also moves them forward,” said Daniel Kirschner, co-founder and CEO of Greenfly, a digital media distribution platform that works with more than 30 leagues. .

MLS will receive at least $250 million per season from Apple. The league averaged $90 million per season under its previous eight-year deals with Fox, ESPN and Univision.

Apple has made inroads into sports streaming before, but this is its first significant involvement in a league. MLB aired two games on Apple TV+ Friday night last year, including the game where St. Louis’ Albert Pujols became the fourth player in baseball history to hit 700 career home runs..

This deal could indicate where the league’s sports streaming and media rights go.

Apple and MLS are teaming up for a direct-to-consumer product that will allow fans to watch every game without local cuts or restrictions and that will expand beyond North America. Fans in London, Paris and wherever the Apple TV app is available will also be able to view the games.

“We looked at sports and recognized that there has never been a better time to be a sports fan, and there has never been a worse time to be a sports fan,” said Eddy Cue, Apple’s senior vice president of services. “We have an opportunity with this partnership to make the experience much better for fans and help grow the sport and the league in the United States and beyond.”

MLS takes care of the production of all of its matches, the same way European football leagues do business. But the other leagues, like the Premier League and the German Bundesliga, then sell their rights to broadcast outlets in each country. In this case, a single outlet – Apple – owns the worldwide rights.

Even games on Fox in the US, TSN and RDS in Canada, and TelevisaUnivision will be on the Apple TV+ app.

“I think they were the right league to recognize that the long-term value of their rights is better situated with a streaming partner or a technology partner, as opposed to traditional leagues that still need big billions of dollars in payouts. traditional networks,” said Jon Cohen, senior vice president of Frequency, which provides software for ad-supported streaming channels. “I think it’s a good time for both of them to do that.”

While Apple TV+ had success as the first streaming service to win a Best Picture Oscar with “CODA” last year and “Ted Lasso” won back-to-back Emmys for Best Comedy, it doesn’t not transform into a company or an entertainment studio. . It remains a diversified company.

“Sport generates a lot of engagement in terms of the media. I think it shows they have a very specific strategy when it comes to growing their subscription and video services,” Cohen said.

MLS and Apple’s progress will be watched closely by other leagues. While the NFL, NHL and baseball have reached rights deals over the past two years, the NBA is expected to have a streaming component when it enters negotiations over its media rights this year.

Cue and Cook acknowledge there will be growing pains in the first year, especially with MLS upgrading with its own production company. However, everyone is focused on the potential of the project and the path ahead.

“People are going to say we’re the smartest guys in the room or we were a few years too early,” MLS commissioner Don Garber said. “The opportunities are endless, but this is a company with many tests.”


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