PHILADELPHIA — Ted Lasso’s home will soon be Major League Soccer’s premier home.
On Tuesday, Apple and MLS announced a major new rights agreement starting next year and running for 10 seasons with every league game streamed, including on traditional national TV.
From 2023 to 2032, the Apple TV app will be the place to watch all MLS regular season competition; a new League Cup between MLS teams and the Mexican Liga MX; and select games from the MLS reserve and youth leagues.
“We are convinced that this is where our fans go, this is where the business goes, and we have the opportunity to go there, perhaps earlier than anyone else,” said MLS commissioner Don Garber. “And to do so with a company that we believe will be the leader and the overall winner in this global sports broadcasting space.”
Garber stated that “over 80 percent of our fans” are streaming football.
“Here they are,” he said. “This is what they do, this is what they asked for, and we’re going to give them ⅛ to 3/8.”
Every regular season and League Cup game will be broadcast in English and Spanish with pre-game, half-time and post-game coverage. Each game involving the Canadian team will also be broadcast in French. Portuguese broadcasting will be added by 2025. Lots of money, but with costs
Perhaps there is some humor in that the new mainstream MLS platform is known for a hugely popular TV show script based on the premise that American football is a joke. But the partnership between Apple and the league is very serious and historically great.
The Sports Business Journal reported that Apple will pay the league at least $250 million a year, more than four times the $65 million a year MLS has received from ESPN, Fox and Univision combined since 2015.
“I’m a huge sports fan, and for the first time as a fan, I’ll be able to access everything from a major professional sports league in one place,” said Eddie Cue, Apple’s senior vice president of services. “This has never been done before. We’re going to use everything that Apple is really good at – our experience, the style, the approach we take to make great products – to that end. … We think we have a great opportunity to build on the great work that MLS has already done to create and attract a whole new generation of fans, as well as expand the audience in North America and beyond.”
You won’t need a cable or satellite TV subscription to stream at all, even to play games on traditional national TV. But there will be no more local TV broadcasts with local announcers.
“Local television will not be involved in the deal,” MLS President Gary Stevenson said, answering several burning questions from reporters about the matter. Some more details to finish
Games will be produced centrally. Stevenson said that “most of our matches” would have broadcasters present, “but not all”.
Teams will be able to stream local radio broadcasts, and fans watching the games on Apple TV will be able to select these broadcasts as comments.
Apple’s deal will cover the entire planet, which means any football fan in the world can sign up for it. Stevenson said there could be linear TV deals in other countries in the future, but no confirmation yet.
While this is Apple’s biggest sports rights deal, it’s not the first for the company. Apple has a package of exclusive Major League Baseball games on Fridays. It is also reported to be a leading candidate for the NFL Sunday ticket package that DirecTV has owned for almost 30 years.
The number of MLS games that will air on traditional national television in the US and Canada is not yet known. Multiple sources have told The Philadelphia Inquirer that ESPN and Univision will likely remain the league’s partners in the US, while Fox will leave.
ESPN also currently owns the league’s off-market streaming rights to ESPN+, but has not claimed to retain them.
“We continue to have an excellent relationship with MLS and are proud of the role we have played in the development of the league and sports in the US,” the network said in a statement.
A spokesman for Fox declined to comment. Additional Benefits
A side effect of the new deal is that MLS will be able to clean up the schedule, which Stevenson says has 63 different start times depending on the day and time of the week. Almost all games will now take place on Saturdays and Wednesdays, with the exception of a few nationally televised games or games involving venue conflicts.
And at night, when there are many games for several hours, the Apple platform will host a live show – a broadcast that many fans across the league have long dreamed of. Apple TV will also be home to game replays, highlights and other MLS programming.
“When we first met with Apple, it wasn’t a Major League Soccer presentation. It was an Apple presentation,” Garber said. “To show us the breadth and scope of their company, and how they think about customers or fans, how they have a product that is the same and accessible to the consumer, wherever they are.”
Stevenson added: “Apple told us, ‘We’ll take as much content as you can give us because it helps us serve the fans.’ … This part is very, very, very important to us in terms of creating and developing fans.”
The bad news is that this new package will not be included with Apple’s existing subscription streaming package, Apple TV+. It will cost extra. But the official announcement states that “a wide selection of MLS and League Cup matches, including some of the biggest matches, will also be available to Apple TV+ subscribers at no additional cost, with a limited number of matches available for free.”
The announcement also stated that the MLS package would be provided free of charge to every season ticket holder of an MLS team.
You don’t need an Apple TV to access Apple TV content, or even an iPhone or iPad. There are apps for Roku, Amazon Fire TV and Chromecast devices, as well as a wide range of smart TVs including Samsung, LG, Panasonic, Sony, TCL and Vizio brands.
The Apple TV app is also built into the Xfinity X1 boxes. So if you’re a Comcast cable TV subscriber with an X1, you can open the app, sign in with your credentials, and watch games on your TV.
More details on the plan, including how much it will cost and when fans will be able to sign up, will be released in the coming months.