Apple’s foray into live sports took a big step forward Tuesday.
Apple and Major League Soccer have announced a 10-year partnership on a streaming service that will allow fans to watch every game without local blackouts or restrictions. The service will be available exclusively through the Apple TV app beginning next year.
The deal is Apple’s second venture into streaming professional sports. In April, it began airing “Friday Night Baseball,” an exclusive weekly doubleheader of Major League Baseball games.
“The opportunity to partner with a sports league, and truly build the product together with them is very, very unique,” said Eddy Cue, Apple’s senior vice president of services. “We can bring the things that we do really well with the things that they do really well and really make the product, which I think will be significantly better for the fans. We want to create a great experience for fans to be able to watch and experience MLS like they’ve never had before.”
The Apple-MLS news comes against the backdrop of a mega deal in India on Tuesday for rights for cricket’s Indian Premier League. U.S. media behemoth Walt Disney and Indian conglomerate Reliance Industries were the major winners in a high-stakes bid to broadcast the IPL, the world’s richest cricket league, for the next five years. Disney-owned Star India retained the television broadcast rights for US$3.02-billion. Viacom 18, a broadcasting joint venture run by Reliance Industries, won digital streaming rights from 2023 to 2027, for US$3.05-billion.
The details of the Apple-MLS streaming service will be announced in the coming months. The package will be included for fans who have full-season ticket packages for their club.
The release says all matches involving the three Canadian MLS teams will be available in English and French.
Presently, Toronto FC and Vancouver Whitecaps matches are shown on TSN, while CF Montreal games are shown on TSN and TVA Sports.
TSN is owned by Bell Media, which is a co-owner of Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment. MLSE counts Toronto FC among its properties.
Some MLS and Leagues Cup matches will be available at no additional cost to Apple TV+ subscribers, with a limited number of matches also available for free.
“We really couldn’t have found a better partner to embark on this new journey together to capitalize on the momentum that exists in MLS today,” league commissioner Don Garber said. “We can use this deal as rocket fuel as we build towards the World Cup in the U.S., Canada and Mexico in 2026 and thinking about what the sport of soccer, what Major League Soccer could look like, in the years beyond.”
Currently, most MLS games are streamed on ESPN+ in the United States, but there are blackout restrictions due to some local rights agreements. The league’s deals with Fox Sports and ESPN expire at the end of the year, but Garber is hoping the league can reach a deal with a broadcast partner.
Even with the Apple deal, MLS does have the opportunity to simulcast some games nationally.
Streaming is already built into soccer fans’ DNA. The league said it has found in various studies that 83% of MLS fans watch sports on streaming devices or recorded TV in a typical week, much higher than the general average of 52 per cent for all TV viewers.
What also makes the deal intriguing for Apple is that MLS has the youngest and most diverse audience compared to the other four major professional North American sports leagues.
Besides all regular-season and postseason matches, the package includes all Leagues Cup matches – the competition between MLS and Mexico’s Liga MX – as well as select MLS NEXT Pro and MLS NEXT matches.
Apple will also partner with MLS on presentation of the matches as the league takes over production. This is another step forward for the league, but is similar to the way European soccer leagues do business. All matches involving U.S. clubs will be called in English and Spanish.
All matches will also be available in Full HD (1080p) for the first time. Previously, matches were broadcast in 1080i or 720p.
Garber said the league will have a more streamlined schedule beginning next season, with most matches taking place on Saturday evenings and some on Wednesdays
with a report from The Canadian Press and Reuters