OI wonder if anyone in Major League Soccer had a famous 1984 Apple Macintosh commercial. playing in their head when the league made up $2.5 billion deal stream their games on Apple TV for the next 10 years. Indeed, the image of a sledgehammer slamming into a giant TV screen is a pretty apt illustration of what the league has done with its new deal.
MLS has not completely abandoned traditional television. claim reports the league is still in talks with linear broadcasters to air some games, but there’s no denying the importance of the decision to work with Apple, the partner Don Garber has always wanted. “When we started this process, we had a logo on the board, and that logo was the Apple logo,” the league commissioner said.
Fans will notice the difference. All matches will take place on Saturdays and Wednesdays. Local broadcasts will be a thing of the past. So it will be too blackouts – Every match will be available in every state (and every country) on Apple TV. Matches will be broadcast on 1080p (many of the current broadcasts are in 720p and 1080i) and will come with a local radio option. In addition, MLS season ticket holders will have access to the service for free.
This new deal has been in the making for years. Back in 2019, the league advised clubs not to sign local agreements after 2022 – the intent of that instruction is now clear. Garber originally set March 2022 as the date for the announcement of the new contract. As that date came and went without any news, there was suspicion that MLS didn’t get the offers it hoped for.
The $250 million a year deal turned out to be more lucrative than many expected (the previous deal with ESPN, Fox and Univision was worth $90 million a year). That being said, MLS signed up its broadcast rights for the next decade for far less than many other leagues receive (the Premier League receives $450 million a year from NBC for its American broadcast rights alone). Will the MLS still view this deal as a bargain in 2032?
It also remains to be seen how put every match on a streaming service (and behind a paywall – fans will need to pay separately access to the new MLS streaming vertical via Apple TV) will impact the league’s overall audience and popularity. But television has been such a mystery to the MLS that it’s not surprising, and perhaps even wise, that the league is trying to piece together a very different picture for itself.
Of course, this isn’t the first time MLS has partnered with a streaming service. League matches outside the market have been available to watch on ESPN+ since 2018. Prior to this, MLS had its own centralized streaming service called MLS Live. Garber and other MLS staffers were quicker than others to notice the change in American sports fans’ broadcasting habits.
While Apple has an agreement with MLB to air Friday Night Baseball, its new MLS deal is the biggest sports broadcast deal the company has ever done. Live MLS games will be an important part of Apple TV’s content strategy. Indeed, Apple could look to benefit from the “world cup kick” expected in 2026 when Canada, Mexico and the US co-host the tournament. It can also be an expectation Rumors about the arrival of Lionel Messi in the MLS at some point in the future. Regardless of what’s behind the equation, Apple clearly believes MLS will add value to its streaming service. That says something about the league’s position in the North American sports landscape.
On Saturday evening, the MLS will have its own red zone. For a league with so many teams (29 as of 2023), this will be an effective way to stay in a league spanning two countries. Broadcasts will be accompanied by a lot more shoulder programming, which should help MLS position itself as the big league it’s always aspired to: broadcasts will never again be delayed by a crowded college basketball game (as happened in 2021).
Apple and MLS may also have the potential to work together on additional content. If MLS hasn’t already pitched the Drive To Survive-style documentary series to its new streaming partners, it should. The fate of Formula 1 in the States has been changed thanks to a Netflix show that gives viewers a peek behind the scenes. Apple recently released a documentary series about Magic Johnson, using the trend started by The Last Dance. Could something similar be told about David Beckham’s time at LA Galaxy, or Freddie Adu’s breakthrough as a 14-year-old professional at DC United?
Some have expressed concern that MLS could lose casual fans by largely turning its back on traditional television, but the league younger support base than most. How many fans have MLS actually attracted by browsing the channels? The modern sports fan is more interested in storytelling and Apple TV should give MLS the best platform to tell stories about their teams and players.
Most broadcast deals haven’t gotten off the ground, and there’s no guarantee this deal will make a difference for MLS. But not every broadcast deal has the potential to benefit from a new MLS deal with Apple. This could be a turning point in MLS history, as was the Premier League’s bold decision to partner with Sky Sports in the early 1990s in English football history. Another memorable Apple commercial used the slogan “Think Different”. MLS certainly does it here.