Just when you thought it was going away, MLS Live is back. And while it could be better, the internet streaming package offered by Major League Soccer ($75.99 for the full season) is a product worth considering.
In 2014, MLS came to an agreement with ESPN on streaming rights, which was bundled with their current television deal. But as the 2015 season approached, the MLS Digital announced that they would be reclaiming the internet package, apparently due to difficulties at ESPN in monetizing their streaming platform, ESPN3/WatchESPN.
That meant MLS Live was back, and for the most part, there are few changes in the interface. Let’s go through this system part by part to discuss the service.
Fee: The biggest change potential subscribers will notice is the price. It was about a 10-15% increase in price over 2014, depending on when you purchased your subscription. Additionally there are fewer matches streamed via MLS Live due to the increase in matches aired on ESPN and FOX networks (2 per week, plus a match on Univision).
Platforms: As was the case last year, you can use this on your PC, Apple product (TV, iPhone, Ipad), Chromecast, Roku, or on Android devices. Since the long term existence of this product is in question, it’s not a surprise they haven’t incorporated additional devices (such as gaming platforms or other tablet devices).
Reliability: On the PC, I’ve rarely had a problem with MLS Live. Streaming works very well in that interface. On my Roku 2 (which is a wireless device), I can experience some buffering delays on matchday. Since other streaming apps work seamlessly via Wifi on my device, my assumption the delay comes from the server.
Additionally, I tried streaming some of the NASL opening night matches via WatchESPN on my Roku. The quality of the HD stream was excellent, even though some of the camera work and commentary was less professional than MLS’s locally produced streams.
Interface: The PC interface is relatively simple to use. You can choose to stream a single match, or up to three matches on one screen (if you have the required bandwidth). For the primary match in your window, you have a great deal of video control. You can pause, rewind 10 seconds, and hit the “slow motion” button to go frame-by-frame. You can also click on the time bar to back up or move ahead in larger intervals. Closed captioning is also available with a single click.
You can also turn the scores on or off, which is great if you prefer not to be spoiled. If you do turn on the scores, the time bar gets annotated with icons to help you find important sequences. You also get match report data and lineups.
Multiple Match Viewing: The alternate screens are not large, but they are big enough to get the gist of what’s happening. You can also swap midstream between matches to magnify the game of your choice. The two alternate panels have a subset of the player controls.
On Demand Replays: After the match is over on the PC, you get a choice between the full game or a condensed replay (~ 20 minutes long). On other platforms you can choose either of those, or select a shorter highlight package.
Archives: You can watch matches as far back as 2010. It’s up to you whether you find 5 full seasons worth of archived footage useful.
Overall: It may not be fair to compare MLS Live to WatchESPN, but MLS opened themselves up to that analysis once they were unable to make it work on ESPN’s service this year. Chris Schlosser and crew have put a lot of work into making MLS Live a good streaming service for the league’s product.
Would it have been better on WatchESPN? There is little doubt in my mind that the additional device support and unequaled stability of The Worldwide Leader’s product would have opened the league up to a whole new bevy of viewers, especially the younger demographic.
For those who can’t get enough domestic soccer, the price is quite affordable. But suffice it to say, most of us will be anticipating the service moving to WatchESPN, preferably for 2016.