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MLS Sign 10 Year Apple TV Deal


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Apple TV will broadcast every single MLS and Leagues Cup match as part of the deal. Sources said that the league is leaving space in its broadcast schedule for linear partners, as well, and that ESPN and Univision are both expected to reach agreements to televise MLS matches in the near future. Sports Business Journal reported on Tuesday that the league remains in negotiations with Fox, as well. Any matches broadcast on ESPN, Fox, Univision or any other linear networks will also be shown on Apple TV+.

Along with the new deal, the league announced a new schedule on Tuesday. All games will be played on Wednesday and Saturday nights when possible.

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I'm not sure making the US equivalent of a "top flight" less accessible to the mainstream American audience is the best way to keep the sport growing in the US. Perhaps if they can get other popular US sports to go with MLS... but as far as I know this would be Apple TV's first iteration of life sport and while MLS has been gaining in popularity in the US... I'm not sure it's popular enough to get enough people also getting Apple TV subscriptions.

So in that sense, I think it's good that ESPN/Fox/Univision (which I think is an NBC affiliate?) are still looking to broadcast matches in the US because these are channels that far more people (and... bars, which is important) have access to.

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1 minute ago, Dr. Gonzo said:

I'm not sure making the US equivalent of a "top flight" less accessible to the mainstream American audience is the best way to keep the sport growing in the US. Perhaps if they can get other popular US sports to go with MLS... but as far as I know this would be Apple TV's first iteration of life sport and while MLS has been gaining in popularity in the US... I'm not sure it's popular enough to get enough people also getting Apple TV subscriptions.

So in that sense, I think it's good that ESPN/Fox/Univision (which I think is an NBC affiliate?) are still looking to broadcast matches in the US because these are channels that far more people (and... bars, which is important) have access to.

I read the agreement as more of an 'over the top service' rather than instead of. Basically just covering every other game, and simulcasting the 'main' games from the networks. 

I know Apple have started to broadcast 'Friday Night Baseball', which seems to have had a mixed reception from baseball fans.

How they suddenly magic up enough people to cover games is another issue. I imagine most of these games are just covered by local networks, so whether they just use them or have to recruit whole broadcasting crews.

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From The Athletic:

Apple will show every single MLS regular season and Leagues Cup match starting in 2023 and continuing for the following 10 seasons. The deal will also include select games from MLS Next Pro, MLS’s developmental league, and MLS Next, its academy circuit.

Under the structure of the deal, there will be no local blackouts for any games, all of which are currently expected to be available worldwide on Apple TV.

The company will build an MLS streaming service within the Apple TV app that will house all MLS matches and related content. Fans will not need to subscribe to Apple TV+ in order to subscribe to the MLS streaming service; it will be a standalone service within the Apple TV ecosystem.

The exact price of the MLS streaming service is yet to be determined.

Additionally, existing Apple TV+ subscribers who do not subscribe to the MLS streaming service will be able to watch a selection of MLS and Leagues Cup matches at no additional cost. A limited number of matches will be available completely free to all fans, regardless of whether they subscribe to either Apple TV+ or the MLS streaming service. MLS full-season ticket holders will also be able to access the MLS streaming service at no additional charge.

Importantly, fans will not need an Apple TV device in order to watch the MLS streaming service. It will be able to be accessed from essentially any device — phone, smart TV, computer — that can connect to the internet.

Apple TV matches will not only be broadcast in English. A source with knowledge of the deal confirmed to The Athletic on Tuesday that every MLS and Leagues Cup game on the Apple TV platform will be broadcast in Spanish, as well. Select matches, mostly involving CF Montreal, will also air in French. The league also plans to show matches in Portuguese by 2025.

One other key aspect of the deal: MLS will produce all games and other content that air on the MLS streaming service on Apple TV.

Local broadcasts of MLS matches will no longer continue. Once the current deal kicks in, matches will not air on regional sports networks or other television partners that individual clubs have worked with over the years. Apple TV games will also only be called by one team of commentators. In the current deal, locally broadcast games are called by two sets of commentators, one specific to each team.

The league is planning to hire between 10 and 14 broadcast teams to call those matches. MLS will also hire producers, directors, other talent and more broadcast staff to produce every game. Sources said the league could also build out facilities to facilitate that production, including a studio for the pregame, halftime and post-game shows that will accompany every single match. MLS is planning to air all games in 1080p, which is a step up from the 720p and 1080i of many of its current broadcasts.

Fans who want to listen to a local voice will have the option to mute the Apple TV commentary team and listen to their club’s local radio broadcast in the MLS streaming service.

 

MLS made clear on Tuesday that the league remains in negotiations with linear TV partners in both the U.S. and Canada.

Sources with knowledge of the talks but who were not authorized to speak about them publicly told The Athletic that the league is in negotiations with ESPN and Univision. Those two networks and Fox have held the U.S. national TV rights for MLS since the 2015 season.

An ESPN spokesperson provided this statement to The Athletic: “We continue to have a great relationship with MLS and are proud of the role we’ve played in helping grow the league and the sport in the U.S.”

The sources said the league is close to a four-year deal with ESPN for a deal that would put between 23 and 25 regular season games per season on the ESPN family of networks. Under the framework of that deal, ESPN and Apple TV would alternate which network broadcasts MLS Cup over the next four years. The ESPN family of networks is set to broadcast 34 regular season games in 2022.

One source said an ESPN deal could still be weeks away, however.

If completed, sources said ESPN would pay a fraction of the $35 million they currently pay annually for the rights, in part because this package would not include U.S. Soccer Federation properties, as the current deal does, but also because any ESPN games would be simulcast on the MLS app on Apple TV. ESPN did not bid to keep the local MLS game package on its ESPN+ platform, where it has lived the past several years, according to sources.

It’s also worth noting that MLS ratings on ESPN have remained underwhelming, even despite incremental growth over the last decade. ESPN is averaging 292,500 viewers for its 2022 MLS broadcasts across its family of networks through 14 games in 2022. Their full-season average in 2021 was 273,300.

It is not clear whether those linear partners would produce the games or whether they would take a global feed from MLS, the way many global broadcasters take a feed from the Premier League. Multiple sources expect that ESPN would prefer to produce their own games, then provide that feed to be simulcast on Apple. One source expressed skepticism that Univision would want to do that; they said that the network would likely take the clean feed produced by MLS and then use its own talent and graphics on top of that feed for its broadcasts.

Univision is in negotiations not only to air MLS games, but also the Leagues Cup package. The sources familiar with negotiations have told The Athletic repeatedly that the network is far more interested in that tournament than it is in MLS regular season matches, but that it will likely end up with inventory from both.

Sports Business Journal reported on Tuesday that MLS also remains in discussions with Fox to broadcast games beyond the expiration of the current deal.

A source said that the league also informed Canadian broadcasters TSN and TVA about the Apple deal in the hours before the announcement. The source said that the league would like to continue discussions with those networks about carrying their broadcast agreements past 2022.

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All of my local team's matches are on a local broadcast.  That will change and the club sponsored broadcasters will be out of a job if I read this correctly as MLS will produce and supply a coverage team for every match.  Not that I was enamoured with the local broadcast team, but it seems like a punch in the mouth to all the "hometown crews" out there.  

As it stands the majority of MLS matches are already behind a paywall with ESPN+.  The national broadcast "game of the week" matches were available on FOX and ESPN's normal channels.  I'm not sure this deal really changes anything other than they're getting more money now.  The fact is that I subscribed to watch La Liga 1 & 2 and Bundesliga 1 & 2 on ESPN+.  I never watched the MLS matches unless I was bored and only then because I was already getting it as part of my package.  I'm certainly not going to subscribe to a new service for MLS matches.

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20 hours ago, Dr. Gonzo said:

while MLS has been gaining in popularity in the US... I'm not sure it's popular enough to get enough people also getting Apple TV subscriptions.

This exactly.  It was fine when MLS was thrown in as a package deal with La Liga, etc.  But as a stand alone product on a new subscription service?  Not so sure.

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