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Thoughts on Major League Soccer’s new media deal with Apple

A week ago, Apple and MLS announced a new TV and media rights deal worth about $250 million for the 2023-2032 season that will put all MLS games on a new app available exclusively through Apple TV.

Here are some thoughts on the deal.

Better, More Serious TV Coverage

MLS fans have long been frustrated with television coverage of MLS matches, which comes from both local broadcasts on regional networks and national broadcasts on ESPN and Fox Sports.

Most local broadcasts do not have pre-game, half-time, and post-game shows featuring experienced analysts and personalities, as happens in the NFL, NBA, MLB, and NHL for all regular season games. Thankfully, Apple has committed to doing this for all matches in the new TV deal. These shows will benefit new and experienced MLS fans as analysts usually see the game in a way that we non-professionals can’t. Interestingly, Apple will include a “weekly live show” in its package. Like the NFL’s RedZone, viewers will be able to switch their TVs to one channel and relax as the show takes them to and from exciting match moments. CBS Sports has been successful in this with their Champions League fast show so it’s nice to see MLS take a page out of their book.

Apple’s push to stream all matches in Spanish (and at one point, Portuguese) is also huge for MLS’s hopes of attracting Latin American viewers to the league. MLS is seeing growth in viewership among Hispanic audiences on Univision and plans to continue to support those viewers in the new agreement.

Standardized game start times and elimination of power outages

What makes the show run so well is the standardized start times, such as the well-known 1 pm ET, 4 pm ET, and 8:20 pm ET slots used by the NFL. MLS appears to be moving towards a similar system with almost all matches scheduled for Wednesday and Saturday except for a few matches. Like Americans in the NFL, MLS can now schedule their schedules around these time slots and incorporate MLS viewing into their “weekly schedule.” Knowing exactly when each week you can plop down in front of the TV and watch football is reassuring.

The removal of power outages and regional sports networks also suggests that MLS believes their fans are interested in watching all 29 (in 2023) teams rather than the one team covered by the regional network. As MLS becomes an increasingly active player in the global transfer market and young talent from South and Central America continues to arrive, almost every team in the league is causing a stir.

Increasing league and club revenues

The value of the new television contract is more than double the value of the contract signed this year. We know that in addition to ticket and merchandise sales, advertising and transfer fees, television rights deals make up a significant portion of league and club revenue. While this dollar number still lags behind other major American sports leagues, it brings the league significantly closer to its competitors.

The league and clubs will be able to use this money to build new football stadiums and refurbish old ones, increase the salary cap and buy the best talent on the international transfer market. Many fans are hoping for an expansion of the designated player rule. Over time, the quality of the game on the field and the overall infrastructure of the league will improve as the MLS moves closer to being considered one of the best leagues in the world.

This is a deal for the future. But what are the big disadvantages?

While the number of MLS TV viewers under the current deal is nothing special, many sports fans still pay for cable TV and watch all their other favorite sports there. This is what I do, for example. In the short term, occasional MLS viewers, who mostly watch other sports but often change the channel to MLS because it’s included in their cable package, might get lost when switching to a new deal. What I think will be the deciding factor for MLS to bring viewers to Apple TV is the other shows and sports included with the service. This “batch effect” will attract viewers who subscribe to Apple TV+ to watch not only MLS, but also become interested in the league as a result of its inclusion in the service. If Apple can acquire the rights to a blockbuster television series or expand its current rights to various MLB games (for example), it will surely help increase MLS viewership in the near future. In short, the number of people who will subscribe to Apple TV+ for the sole purpose of watching MLS is extremely unclear (Apple TV+ subscribers will get some but not all MLS games, while MLS streaming subscribers will get all games regardless of whether they subscribe on Apple). TV+ or not).

The league also left the future of the current local broadcasters unclear. Will some or all of them be hired by Apple or the league to cover games under the new deal? Will they be out of work? From the Union’s point of view, it would be a shame if this season was the last time we hear JP Dellacamera and Danny Higginbotham on the mic. Both are excellent and have appeared nationally on FOX, ESPN and NBC as a result. I also really liked the work of Callum Williams and Kindra de St. Aubyn for Minnesota United FC.

Commissioner Don Garber is confident that the future of television lies in streaming and that cable television is slowly approaching its deathbed. “83% [MLS] During a typical week, fans watch sports on a streaming device or recorded TV show,” the league said in a statement. Garber wants to be innovative and go where no other major American sports league has gone. For a young, fast-paced league, it makes sense to plan for a future that will be drastically different from today’s world.

As long as the MLS is ready to go through some short-term growth plans, Garber could be called a genius in 10 short years.

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