This week’s report that Apple TV+ is interested in acquiring MLS media rights shouldn’t come as a surprise. Two years ago, the streaming service added a former Amazon executive to lead its foray into live sports. Coupled with their recent acquisition of baseball rights, the potential acquisition of MLS rights would be an ideal way for Apple TV+ to tiptoe into soccer.
With Apple TV+ never streaming soccer before, there’s a lot to unpack here.
Consumer education is key
First, one of the biggest myths about Apple TV+ is that you need an Apple phone or device to watch any of its programming. This isn’t true. However, it is a lesson that MLS and Apple TV+ need to address. If you remember the streaming service called PlayStation Vue, one of the major reasons it died was because consumers thought you needed a PlayStation to watch it.
Apple TV+ isn’t going out of business like PlayStation Vue did. If Apple signs the deal with MLS, the two will need to work together on a communications strategy to educate soccer fans.
Another streaming service to consider
Second, streaming fatigue is an issue, and it’s only going to get worse. Soccer fans, for the most part, are content with having ESPN+, Paramount+ and a cable alternative such as fuboTV or Sling. Beyond that, consumers start to complain that there are too many streaming services.
Fans of MLS clubs, in particular, are already fatigued when it comes to viewing options. Research compiled by World Soccer Talk shows that MLS is one of the most expensive soccer leagues to watch. If MLS agrees a deal with Apple TV+, the league will lose fans who want to watch games on traditional cable or over-the-air television. In a recent World Soccer Talk poll, only 6% of respondents selected Apple TV+ as their preference in the next MLS media rights deal.
Match made in heaven
Issues aside, the marriage of Apple TV+ and MLS is a match made in heaven. Major League Soccer desperately needs to raise its revenue from media rights. With FOX Sports uninterested, and tepid interest from ESPN, Warner Bros/Discovery is the only other major player on the English-language side that’s shown keen interest. Competition for media rights is vital. And it always helps when a company such as Apple (with a cash balance of $203 billion) enters the bidding. On the Spanish-language side, MLS continues to be strong due in large part to interest from TelevisaUnivision.
Another major benefit of MLS teaming up with Apple TV+ is metrics. For far too long, Major League Soccer has been on the receiving end of criticism about its mediocre TV viewing numbers. Signing a deal with Apple will eliminate the bad press. At the end of the day, Apple is focused on increasing the number of subscriptions to Apple TV+. Very little attention will be paid to viewing numbers. And even then, those viewing numbers won’t be made public.
Apple TV+ on the rise
With the addition of Major League Baseball games and the prospect of MLS, Apple TV+ has a lot to offer. The streaming service is building out a strong portfolio of shows. For instance, Ted Lasso has been a critical hit. Apple TV+’s Coda just won the Oscar for Best Picture. And shows such as Severance and The Morning Show have been well received.
Overall, Apple TV+ signing a deal with Major League Soccer would provide the league with a much-needed revenue boost. At the same time, it gives the streaming service more of an opportunity to get up to speed on soccer, while growing its subscriber base. Both MLS and Apple TV+ need each other. Just as MLS was a trailblazer when it became available on ESPN+ when it first launched, MLS can be the first soccer league to test the waters with Apple TV+.
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