Last week, Major League Soccer announced a groundbreaking deal with Apple to stream matches for the next 10 years. For $2.5 billion, Apple will show all MLS regular season and League Cup (MLS vs. Liga MX) matches on the Apple TV platform via the MLS in-app streaming service. Here are the key details of the groundbreaking live sports deal:
Where can I watch?
To watch all regular season and League Cup matches (as well as select games from MLS Next Pro and MLS Next, the MLS Development League and Academic League, respectively), users will need to purchase an unnamed MLS streaming app on Apple TV. However, viewers will not need to purchase an Apple TV+ to purchase the streaming service, nor will they need to purchase a physical Apple TV product—any device that can connect to the Internet will be able to show games. While the exact cost of the MLS streaming service is unknown, existing Apple TV+ subscribers who have not purchased an MLS subscription will still have access to some matches, and an additional limited number of matches will be available for free to all fans, even those without an Apple subscription. TV+. MLS full season ticket holders will receive the MLS streaming app included with their full season ticket purchase. In addition, this deal removes any local shutdown restrictions that were in place for MLS games on ESPN+ in their last deal.
Does this mean that MLS will not air on cable TV?
No. Although MLS has signed a comprehensive deal with Apple to broadcast all games, they are still in talks with ESPN, FOX, Univision and Canada’s TSN and TVA. According to Athletic, MLS is close to a four-year deal with ESPN that will see their family of networks host 23-25 regular season games. The deal will also allow ESPN and Apple TV to alternate networks that carry the MLS Cup. By comparison, ESPN will air 34 MLS regular season games this year. Although the details of the talks with FOX are still unclear, Univision is in talks not only to broadcast regular season matches, but also to play in the League Cup. FOX and Univision plan to air 34 and 32 regular season games this season, respectively.
Ten years at $2.5 billion is $250 million a year, but it’s considered the minimum payment. Under the terms of the agreement, once the number of MLS streaming service subscriptions exceeds an undisclosed threshold, Apple will share an undisclosed portion of the revenue with MLS. Between this deal and the expected completion of smaller linear TV deals, the league’s total media rights revenue should be close to the $300 million target they originally set at the start of the negotiation process. For each club, including the upcoming 29th team in St. Louis and the expected addition of a 30th team – most likely in Las Vegas – and deducting the roughly $2 million in production costs that teams typically spend, this should come out to about 7.5 million dollars a year. .
This new deal represents a huge increase for the league. The latest deal, although technically worth $90 million, included about $25 million for the US men’s national team game rights, which were sold separately to Turner earlier this year. The rise from $65 million to nearly $300 million represents a roughly 450 percent increase in revenue, important enough for individual clubs to go from break even operating costs to marginal profits.
Starting with this new deal, MLS will take full control of the production of not only their games, but also other content that will be streamed on the MLS streaming app. Local streaming of games will cease and games will not appear on any regional sports network. Games will be called by one team of announcers, as opposed to the current model of two sets – one for each team – of announcers announcing each game. However, the MLS streaming service has an option that will allow users to mute the commentators and instead listen to the local club radio during the game.
This shift to the NFL TV production model will mean that MLS will hire its own teams of broadcasters (10-14 according to The Athletic), producers and directors, among other staffing needs. Since every game will have pre-game, half-time and post-match content, it is likely that MLS will create and build a centralized studio. It is also planned to stream games in 1080p, which is an upgrade for the current production of 720 and 1080i games. Building high-level in-house manufacturing facilities is an important commitment for MLS and is projected to cost at least $60 million per season, not including start-up costs that are likely to be incurred in the first couple of years of the deal.
One of the main drivers of this agreement is the content changes that the MLS will go through. A permanent show will be created to air every Saturday night and will likely follow the pattern of previously successful and well-received projects on FS1 during Decision Day (the last day of the regular season) and on ESPN+ during the US. Open Cup. Each game will have national shows before and after the game, with teams having the opportunity to host local shows before and after the game that will run before and after the national versions. This will end the practice of other sports or pre-MLS events seeping into scheduled programming, a common complaint for the league and spectators alike. In addition, for the first time, a consistent MLS game schedule will be provided. Matches will be played on Saturday night and weekday matches on Wednesday night, with some exceptions made for linear TV or stadium availability issues. According to MLS Deputy Commissioner and President of MLS Business Ventures Gary Stevenson MLS will have 63 different start day and start time combinations in 2022, and that number will be significantly reduced in this deal with Apple, bringing the league closer to claiming a permanent block on the American sports schedule. Finally, this deal with Apple will significantly increase the number of stories. While early reports indicate that most, if not all, storytelling and non-gaming content will continue to be produced by MLS, Apple will play a heavy role in the creative and distribution of this storytelling content.
The second part of this breakdown analyzes the deal.