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Sky transformed English football. Will Apple’s $2.5 billion deal do the same for MLS? | MLS

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Owonder if anyone at Major League Soccer had the famous 1984 ad for the Apple Macintosh in mind as the league signed a $2.5 billion deal to broadcast its matches on Apple TV during the next 10 years. Indeed, the image of a sledgehammer crashing into a giant television screen is rather apt to illustrate what the league has done with its new deal.

MLS hasn’t completely turned its back on traditional TV – reports claim the league is still in negotiations with linear broadcasters to show some games – but there’s no denying the significance of the decision to work with Apple, the partner Don Garber wanted all along. “When we started this process, we had a logo on the whiteboard, and that logo was the Apple logo,” the league commissioner said.

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Fans will notice a difference. All matches will be played on Saturdays and Wednesdays. Local broadcasts will be a thing of the past. So will power outages – every game will be available in every state (and country) on Apple TV. Matches will be broadcast in 1080p (most current broadcasts are in 720p and 1080i) and will be accompanied by a local radio audio option. In addition, MLS subscription holders will have access to the service free of charge.

This new agreement has taken years to prepare. As early as 2019 the league told clubs not to sign local deals beyond 2022 – the intent behind that instruction is now clear. Garber originally set March 2022 as the date to announce the new contract. As that date came and went without any news, it was suspected that MLS had not received the offers it was hoping for.

The $250 million per year deal is more lucrative than many expected (the previous deal with ESPN, Fox and Univision was worth $90 million per year). That being said, MLS signed its broadcast rights for the next decade for far less than many other leagues receive (the Premier League receives $450 million a year from NBC for its US broadcast rights alone). Will MLS still see this deal as good value in 2032?

It also remains to be seen how putting every game on a streaming service (and behind a paywall – fans will have to pay separately to access MLS’s new streaming vertical via Apple TV) will impact viewership and viewership. overall league exposure. But television has been such a headache for MLS that it’s no surprise, and perhaps even wise, that the league is trying to piece together a completely different image.

Of course, this isn’t the first time MLS has partnered with a streaming service. The league’s out-of-market games have been available to watch on ESPN+ since 2018. Prior to that, MLS operated its own centralized streaming service called MLS Live. Garber and others in MLS were quicker than most to recognize the change in the streaming habits of American sports fans.

While Apple has a deal with MLB to air Friday Night Baseball, its new MLS deal is the biggest live sports deal the company has ever made. Live MLS games will be an important part of Apple TV’s content strategy. Indeed, Apple may be planning to take advantage of the “World Cup” scheduled for 2026, when Canada, Mexico and the United States will co-host the tournament. He can also anticipate Lionel Messi’s supposed arrival in MLS at some point in the future. Whatever the work behind the equation, Apple clearly believes that MLS will increase the value of its streaming service. That says a lot about the league’s position in the North American sports landscape.

A whipping show on Saturday night will give MLS its own red zone. For a league with so many teams (29 from 2023), this will be an effective way to stay in a league that spans two countries. Broadcasts will come with a lot more shoulder programming, which should help position MLS as the major league it has always aspired to be: broadcasts will never again be delayed due to a basketball game- overflowing college ball (as happened in 2021).

There could also be potential for Apple and MLS to work together on additional content. If MLS hasn’t introduced a Drive To Survive-like docuseries to its new streaming partners yet, it should. The fortunes of F1 in the United States have been transformed by the Netflix show which allows viewers to go behind the curtain. Apple recently produced a docuseries on Magic Johnson, capitalizing on the trend started by The Last Dance. Could something similar be produced about David Beckham’s move to LA Galaxy or Freddy Adu’s breakthrough as a 14-year-old professional at DC United?

Some have expressed concern that MLS could lose casual fans by largely turning its back on traditional television, but the league has a younger support base than most. How many fans have really been drawn to MLS by browsing the channels? The modern sports fan is more interested in storytelling and Apple TV should give MLS a better platform to tell the story of its teams and players.

Most broadcast deals fail to move the needle, and there’s no guarantee this one will change much for MLS. But not all broadcast deals have the potential benefit of MLS’s new deal with Apple. This could be a historic moment in MLS history, just as the Premier League’s bold move to partner with Sky Sports in the early 1990s was in English football history. Another memorable Apple ad used the “Think Different” tagline. MLS certainly does it here.

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