Apple and Major League Soccer (MLS) today announced that the Apple TV app will offer streaming video of every MLS game for the next 10 years.
Apple claims that viewers “around the world” can “watch all MLS, Leagues Cup and select MLS NEXT Pro and MLS NEXT games in one place – without local broadcast breaks or the need for a traditional pay-TV package.”
This will all be part of a “new MLS streaming service” that will be available in early 2023 and will continue to offer games until 2032. He will offer both live and on-demand videos.
A blog post on Apple’s Newsroom website seems to indicate that while the service will be exclusive to the Apple TV app, it will be billed separately from Apple’s catch-all streaming service, Apple TV+. However, a limited number of MLS and League Cup games will be available free of charge to Apple TV+ subscribers.
The post also points out that MLS ticket package buyers will get free access to the entire MLS streaming service for the entire season.
When you turn on the streams, you’ll have a choice of English or Spanish announcers for all matches – and there will be a French option for all matches that also involve Canadian teams.
Neither Apple nor MLS have announced a more specific launch date for the service, and pricing is still a mystery.
Apple TV app is obviously available on Apple devices like Mac, iPhone, iPad and Apple TV. But it’s also found its way to other hardware, including PlayStation, Xbox, Chromecast, Amazon Fire TV, Roku, and several major smart TV brands. This isn’t Apple’s first foray into sports streaming. It’s been part of Apple TV’s strategy in one way or another for some time, but the company escalated its plans with regular Friday night streams of Major League Baseball (MLB) earlier this year.
Why ESPN and regional sports networks are nervous
Major League Soccer is just outside the popular sports district occupied by the NFL, MLB, NBA, NHL, and college football and basketball. But despite the relatively low popularity of MLS compared to the other leagues, this announcement from Apple is a very big deal.
Live sport is by far the biggest reason why millions of people have yet to go live and sever their ties with cable companies and satellite TV providers. That’s simply because the easiest way to follow your hometown team — outside of the NFL, which airs all of its games for free in local markets — is to sign up with your local cable company or satellite provider. These are the people who carry the regional sports network, which has the rights to broadcast your local teams. For a Chicagoan wanting to catch all the Bulls, Blackhawks, Cubs, White Sox, Fire and Red Stars matches, Marquee Sports Network and NBC Sports Chicago are the only options to catch all the action that Both require a cable or satellite TV subscription.
For the first time, an MLS fan can watch all their favorite teams’ games without a cable subscription. That’s huge because that’s the for the first time this was the case for every major American sports league. Sure, MLB and the NBA offer their own over-the-top streaming services, but there are significant limitations. You can’t see your local team on NBA League Pass; You need a cable subscription for this. You cannot watch national broadcasts with the NBA League Pass. You need a cable subscription for the non-wireless games. Etc.
Apple TV changes that model with today’s announcement. If you’re a die-hard Columbus fan and want to watch your beloved crew anytime, anywhere, you have a new option that doesn’t include Comcast or DirecTV. And if you’re holding on to the cable just to see the crew, it becomes a lot cheaper.
Apple and MLS have done something remarkable here. With the NFL currently negotiating its out-of-print Sunday ticket service with a handful of streaming services and the NCAA’s Big Ten conference in the process of selling its next media rights package, the next big deal could see cable being shut down altogether. According to John Ourand at Sports business journal, Apple will pay approximately $2.5 billion over the 10 years of this agreement. That’s small change for Apple… and Amazon… and Google.
Today’s announcement marks the beginning of the end of the traditional way sports are packaged for broadcast in the United States. When off-market live sports are no longer solely found on cable, cable cutting will accelerate, much to the dismay of regional sports networks — and even ESPN.