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Apple TV Wins Exclusive Rights to MLS: What This Means for Soccer Fans

A historic first for soccer streaming, MLS fans can subscribe and stream all things MLS, including live matches, via a single Apple TV platform.

apple tv MLS Messi

Major League Soccer (MLS) recently announced a new broadcast agreement with Apple, reportedly worth an estimated $2.5 billion over 10 years. The deal replaces the league’s past contract with ESPN, Univision, and Fox. One of the key details revealed so far is the creation of an immersive MLS subscription service within the Apple TV platform. Don’t miss any of Messi’s matches this season as he has joined Inter Miami CF.

What is MLS?

Major League Soccer (MLS) is the premier men’s professional soccer league in the United States and Canada. The foundation was established back in 1988 when the United States Soccer Federation (also known as US Soccer) committed to creating a Division One professional soccer league as part of their bid to host the 1994 FIFA World Cup. 

The USA won the rights to the global event, and MLS eventually made its debut two years later in 1996 with ten teams, adding two more in 1998. There are currently 28 teams, with St. Louis CITY SC set to debut in 2023, bringing the total number of teams to 29. There are plans to add a 30th team in an undetermined market. 

The popularity of MLS has grown considerably since the previously mentioned developing years. The first home game of the expansion team, Charlotte FC, drew an MLS record of 74,479 attendees in 2021. MLS also ended the 2021 season with a spike in ratings as their championship game between New York City FC and the Portland Timbers peaked at 1.6 million viewers, up 38% from 2019. The increase came at an opportune time: when the league prepared to negotiate a new media rights contract in 2022 to replace its expiring $90 million per year agreement with ESPN, Fox, and Univision. 

apple tv MLS Messi Matchup
apple tv MLS Messi Matchup

What’s the MLS-Apple TV deal everyone’s talking about?

In June 2022, MLS agreed on a robust 10-year, $250 million per year deal with Apple TV, reportedly beating out dozens of other companies, including Warner Bros., Discovery Inc., Paramount Global, and Amazon.com Inc. The deal is said to be less than the annual $300 figure, which was initially projected. 

Under the new agreement, Apple will begin streaming matches in 2023 through 2032 via a new subscription-based MLS live tv streaming service, only available through the Apple TV app. A limited number of games will be free for all users, and a select number of games will be available to Apple TV Plus subscribers at no extra cost. The best news? There aren’t any local broadcast blackouts for subscribers. All MLS season ticket holders will get a complimentary subscription to the new sports streaming service and automatic access to the matches.

What programming can I find on MLS’ new streaming service?

Subscribers to MLS’ streaming service can expect programming that features over 1,000 games annually, including League Cup and youth games, on-demand content, highlights, game analysis and replays, and behind-the-scenes footage of players and clubs. 

MLS also announced a plan to schedule all matches on Wednesdays and Saturdays when possible. Gameday broadcasts will be comprised of pregame, halftime, and postgame shows, plus a weekly whip-around show to complement match weekends. 

One significant change from the league’s current streaming deal with ESPN, which is sure to appeal to fans, is the elimination of local blackout restrictions. This means that fans can watch all games, including those of teams outside of their market. MLS and Leagues Cup matches will feature both English-speaking and Spanish-speaking announcers, while Canadian contests will be available in French. Multilingual options are important in a league with so many foreign-born players.

Are there any drawbacks to the streaming service?

The Apple/MLS partnership marks the start of what could be many successful joint ventures for streaming platforms and major professional sports leagues, as all MLS content will be available on one consumer-friendly platform. But there are still some drawbacks to be aware of when looking into the best sports streaming services

For starters, an all-MLS streaming service is ideal for the diehard fan, yet not necessarily for the casual fan. Viewers who might have occasionally caught a match while flipping through local channels or looking at specific channels on a Hulu plan or other streaming service are unlikely to commit to a subscription. Locking up MLS content behind a paywalled service effectively limits audience reach for a league that’s still growing. That being said, MLS is banking on the relationship with a streaming service that appeals to a younger, more digitally savvy demographic. 

How might this new streaming deal affect the future of sports streaming and tv networks?

The new media rights deal doesn’t entirely leave traditional television out in the cold. The league is still in communication with ESPN, Fox, and Univision to come to terms on simulcasting some MLS matches. Any games televised on these or other linear networks will also be available on Apple TV. However, by parting ways with local stations, MLS will lose the familiarity and insight of local commentary teams that attend all practices and have built up a rapport with the clubs. MLS will likely hire one crew of commentators for Apple TV matches. 

When it comes to sports streaming, Apple TV’s latest MLS deal is part of the push by streaming platforms to ramp up their sports offerings. In addition to the joint venture with MLS, Apple TV announced a deal in March with Major League Baseball to air Friday night games on Apple TV Plus this season. Rumor has it that the company is also vying for streaming rights to the NFL Sunday Ticket package, which is currently held by DIRECTV. 

Viacom18, a partnership between Paramount Global and industrialist Mukesh Ambani, recently acquired Indian Premier League Cricket streaming rights. Paramount Plus already airs Italy’s Serie A matches. In November 2021, NBCUniversal extended its deal with the English Premier League to show all 380 matches and associated programming across its family of properties, including Peacock. The six-year contract is estimated to be worth more than $2.5 billion. 

Final thoughts

Soccer fans and ESPN Plus subscribers, take note. ESPN Plus will soon lose the right to stream out-of-market MLS matches on its service. 

However, it’ll still retain a roster of UFC coverage and live access to MLB, NHL, MLS, PGA golf, tennis, college football, and international soccer (Spain’s La Liga and Germany’s Bundesliga). And, Amazon is preparing to unveil its exclusive stream of the NFL’s “Thursday Night Football” this fall. 

You can learn more about Apple TV’s MLS subscription pricing, program information, and sign-up process when details are announced in the coming months. 

The Apple TV app is available on Amazon Fire TV, Android TV streaming devices and TVs (version 8 or higher), cable or satellite services, Google TV, LG, Panasonic, PlayStation, Roku, Samsung, Sony, VIZIO, and Xbox.

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