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Reasons to love an Apple TV+ and MLS deal

Reasons to love an Apple TV+ and MLS deal

Apple’s sudden interest in acquiring sports rights comes at an ideal time for Major League Soccer. With the American top-flight league getting passive interest from its current rights holders, the writing is on the wall that MLS has to change. The league is expanding its number of teams. Yet, MLS appears to be stuck in a quagmire of weak TV ratings. Its root issue is that there’s little reason to watch the regular season on television. And soccer fans know this.

Apple, however, may not care as much. Instead, the tech giant is in the game of acquiring new subscribers for its Apple TV+ streaming service. As long as subscribers stick with the service throughout the year, Apple isn’t going to worry about viewing numbers. With shows such as Ted Lasso and movies including Coda and new Tom Hanks films, Apple just wants subscribers to stick with the service. And if sports can be the way to keep subscribers stuck on Apple TV+, then that’s a win-win.

For soccer fans who haven’t signed up yet to Apple TV+, there may be some trepidation. However, there are many reasons why sports fans in general are enthused about what the Apple ecosystem offers. And this is coming from an Android mobile phone user.

Reasons to love an Apple TV+ and MLS deal

1) Sports. Apple TV+ has already signed a deal with Major League Baseball. Subsequently, reports are that Apple TV+ is close to a deal to acquire NFL’s Sunday Ticket. Combine this with the potential of MLS games from 2023 onwards, and it’ll be a home run for sports fans.

After all, after you watch all of the Ted Lasso episodes as well as the other shows and movies, there is little reason to continue with Apple TV+. If you add sports to that mix, with games happening every week throughout the year, it makes Apple TV+ much more stickier.

2) State of the art hardware. You don’t need an Apple phone or piece of Apple hardware to watch Apple TV+. You can watch programming across many different devices. But if you decide to buy an Apple TV device (which looks like a hockey puck and can stream all of your favorites channels and services), get ready for a treat. Last year, I wrote that every soccer fan needs to own an Apple TV. And I continue to stand by that statement.

In fact, every sports fan needs to own an Apple TV, and here’s why. First, the picture quality is far better than a Roku or Amazon Fire TV. Second, you can do more with the apps on an Apple TV. For instance, you can watch four games at once with Multicast.

An Apple TV also includes a picture-in-picture feature, and it works on different apps. For example, with an Apple TV, watch a MLS game from ESPN+ at the same time as a UEFA Champions League game on Paramount+. With other streaming devices such as Roku and Amazon Fire TV, that feature isn’t available.

I should add that for readers unfamiliar with Apple TV, it’s not a television. It’s a streaming device to connect to your TV. Then, you can add your favorite streaming services to it such as Netflix and your library of music and shows. If you want, you can add Apple TV+ to it too. Oftentimes when you buy an Apple phone or hardware device, you get a subscription to Apple TV+.

Apple TV features easily integrates with other services all inside the app. For instance, the Apple TV App on the device aggregates all of the popular streaming services and cable TV providers together. Also, the App recommends what shows to watch next from your favorite streaming services. Examples include Disney+, HBO Max, Amazon Prime Video, Hulu, and more.

Improved perception of MLS outside of soccer

3) The bleeding edge. When MLS agreed a deal with ESPN+, it was one of the first leagues available on the streaming service that turned into a huge success. Together with Apple TV+, MLS would be the first soccer league on the streaming service. By the end of 2026, Apple TV+ expects to reach 36 million subscribers.

Apple TV+ has aggressive growth plans, and the league would be centerstage for that. Being seen as a trailblazer is where you want to be as a sports league.

4) Appealing to a more affluent audience. Apple TV+ is not for everyone. Yes, it’s $4.99 per month, so it’s certainly cost effective. However, there’s no doubt that Apple, in general, appeals to a demographic that has more disposable income than an average consumer.

With Apple TV+, there’s a prestige with being featured on the streaming service. This isn’t B/R Live nor FloSports. Apple TV+ is a streaming service that’s synonymous with award-winning shows and movies. Being on the same streaming service as Ted Lasso, Coda (Best Picture winner), Severance and The Morning Show carries a lot of weight. This is a streaming service that focuses on quality content, even if Apple TV+ has a long way to go before it rivals Disney+ or Netflix.

 

Overall, just as Apple TV+ has room to grow, so too does Major League Soccer. Together, they are brands who have a lot in common. Both work in a closed ecosystem. MLS could certainly benefit from an open system, as could Apple. However, for business reasons, both entities have decided to work in their own controlled environments. By doing so, they’ve been able to control every single aspect of their operations. Sterile, as it is, it does feel like a match made in soccer heaven.

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18 Comments

18 Comments

  1. Dave

    April 22, 2022 at 2:19 pm

    In order to follow my team I have to subscribe to fox sports1, paramount+, and Amazon Prime. Now we think Apple TV is a good addition? No wonder soccer viewership sucks in America. It shouldn’t be easier to follow a German team than the team in my closest city.

    • Graham

      April 29, 2022 at 8:26 am

      Precisely.

  2. Ron R.

    April 22, 2022 at 1:37 pm

    Ummm, no. The only side that “wins” on this scenario is Apple TV+ because the fans certainly lose, big time.

    This is, quite frankly, a terrible idea that will only hurt the growth of the sport in the US. As others have said, ESPN+ offers multiple leagues already, so that’s where soccer fans are. That’s where they will stay. Having MLS on a pay streaming service, that has ZERO other soccer will not grow the subscriber base of AppleTV+, but almost certainly will drastically reduce the viewership for MLS.

    This is a TERRIBLE idea. If the rights HAVE to go elsewhere, please let them go to a service/channel that has widespread availability and at least SOME history of broadcasting sports.

  3. El Jefe

    April 21, 2022 at 5:02 pm

    I’d probably end up subscribing if they beef up their sports selection. They could probably snag rights to some decent leagues like the J-League or something. Maybe even some minor league sports like AHL or some rugby like the URC and I’m all in. The TV shows and movies they have on there look horrendous (I’m not a fan of modern TV shows and movies to begin with). Just my two cents.

  4. dave

    April 21, 2022 at 3:55 pm

    Interesting article and comments. I am curious about potential pricing and revenue.
    .
    Per the article, “By the end of 2026, Apple TV+ expects to reach 36 million subscribers”. If they offer everything at current $50 per year pricing, that is ~$2 billion per year in revenue. That barely covers Sunday Ticket and MLS rights.
    .
    Also per the article, “However, there’s no doubt that Apple, in general, appeals to a demographic that has more disposable income than an average consumer. With Apple TV+, there’s a prestige with being featured on the streaming service.” The core Apple customer is among the most likely to pay an extra $10-$20 per month for desired content.
    .
    1. Per previous exchange with @Mercator, perhaps Apple price everything (current service, Sunday Ticket, MLS, etc.) at ~$100 per year
    2. Per @Michael, perhaps Apple have incremental pricing where base Apple TV+ is $50 per year, extra ~$100 per year for full MLS, extra ~$X per year for Sunday Ticket, etc.
    3. Per @Leo, how does Apple TV+ create offerings that deliver value for money? Potentially tricky with 36 million heterogeneous customers, some of whom could not care less about sports and some of whom mainly care about a specific sport
    4. Per @Auditor, what is the overlap between the core Apple demographic and core and potential MLS fans?
    .
    Thank you for all the content on this topic! It is fun to explore the rapid evolution of the sports broadcasting market.

    • Mercator

      April 21, 2022 at 4:36 pm

      “If they offer everything at current $50 per year pricing, that is ~$2 billion per year in revenue. That barely covers Sunday Ticket and MLS rights.”

      I will note I think Apple just has a different approach here from other streaming companies. Unlike Netflix or Peacock where 100% of the revenue is coming in as subscription fees (or ads), Apple has an infinite number of ways to make back spending on content like this. Maybe some subscribers also bundle ATV+ with other apple services. Maybe they download more apps and Apple gets 30% of those fees. Maybe they finally throw in the towel and also get an iPhone or Apple TV. Maybe its just for good publicity, is the government really going to crack down on a company giving millions of Americans Sunday Ticket for free? Apple is a multitrillion dollar company and ATV+ is so small relative to the business its not even broken out separately in their financials – they have much more flexibility than other streamers who need to make X in subscriptions today to be able to afford Y in rights fees tomorrow.

      For example, I have a suspicion this push into streaming (and sports in particular lately) is laying the groundwork for some Apple VR or AR product. $300 million for MLS rights or a few billion on NFL rights is nothing if it helps apple get out front in a future multitrillion dollar industry.

    • Michael

      April 23, 2022 at 12:02 am

      @Dave. This year the NFL Sunday Ticket was $325 payment on top of the price to had to pay every month. There is zero percent change that people will not have to pay extra to see that even if it goes to Apple. As for the MLS, it all depends on what package apple buys. Are they going to buy just a “Game night doubleheader” like MLB is now? Or are they going to offer the entire out of market package and you have to pay an extra fee like ESPN+ does with MLB.TV. With ESPN+ you can pay $119.00 and get every game not in your home market (you home home team you get radio only). I can’t count, I think that is about 2,000 games. Then again, All 380 Bundesliga are in the ESPN+ base package for no extra fee. I think there will be both. I think Apple will buy the National Package that would have going to Fox/FS1 in the current deal, and then ESPHN+ will still keep the out of market package like they do now. But what do I know?

    • Graham

      April 29, 2022 at 8:30 am

      Apple will never get a cent of money.

  5. The Auditor

    April 21, 2022 at 2:00 pm

    ESPN+ has 17mln subscribers, literally all of them sports fans and has many other soccer properties. It also is connected to several cable TV networks that are in 75mln+ homes already, and an OTA network

    Apple TV+ has just over 20mln subscribers and no other soccer programming.

    How does going to Apple TV+ make sense in trying to grow a fan base when going to Apple would cut off so much of the fanbase and potential fanbase? Sure it has no nice bells and whistles, but it simply doesn’t reach that many people. How many people that watch Severance are going to watch an MLS match, when ESPN can pitch the same match to actual soccer fans and fans of other sports? Going behind a paywall doesnt grow a fanbase!

    • Michael

      April 23, 2022 at 12:39 am

      @The Auditor. I don’t think the point it to grow the sport. The point it to make enough money stay sustainable. If they get more money, they can get more good players, and then they get a better quality of play…then they will get more fans. This is America and American culture. They support winners. If you put a better product on the field, Americans will watch. Case in point the USWNT.

  6. Michael

    April 21, 2022 at 1:40 pm

    Apple is in heavy Negotiations for part of the Big Ten Conference’s Multi Billion contract that is coming up renewal and will be announced before Memorial Day this year. Fox is getting the Tier 1, BTN is getting the Tier 3, and now NBC, CBS, and either Apple or Amazon will get 1 game week a piece get the Tier 2. Well, from the Apple perspective, that is the same kind of deal that they signed with MLB. You get the doubleheader each week, and I believe in the future you eventually will be able to buy the entire season of MLB.TV just like on ESPN+. The point is it looks like this is a pattern forming with the kinds of deals that Apple is signing. I can see them doing the same thing with MLS. They broadcast the “Free game” for anyone that pays the base monthly fee, but if you want to buy the entire 1,020 game scheduled (34 weeks x 30 teams), you pay the $99 -$119 fee extra. This is very similar to an idea that Karthik talked about last summer in one of the podcasts. In addition The Sports Journal says that they (Apple) are the Club House leaders for taking over the NFL Sunday ticket. Basically the point is that if they continue going down that line, they are trying to go head to head with ESPN+ for some of the same rights. That would end up driving up the asking price, and MLS could very well get closer to their asking price that we originally thought. I don’t think it would be $300 Million, but it would be better than we were predicting last week. It would be interesting to see. I get my Apple TV+ free with my Apple One subscription, and I get my ESPN+ subscription free with my Disney+ bundle. When I was in College the professor told me that, “If I say it three times, it will be on the exam.” Well, when ESPN acquired La Liga Chris wrote three or four articles hinting at it. He has already written two about Apple, and I am sure the next podcast will talk about it. That lets me know that he knows something is up and he just can’t wait to announce it.

    • dave

      April 21, 2022 at 3:08 pm

      @Michael, do you have more detail on Apple TV+ and Big Ten? Through a complicated scheme, BTN own the Big Ten rights while FOX are the majority owner of BTN. More or less, everyone is pitching for Big Ten rights while FOX listens and “helps” the Big Ten decide.
      .
      There are many ways to look at Apple TV+ acquisitions. A less flattering interpretation is that they are winning things nobody else really wants (similar to Amazon “winning” TNF):
      .
      * MLB Friday (Apple) was passed on by ESPN
      * Sunday Ticket (Apple) has had poor financial returns, and its use case is weaker with the prevalent and popular RedZone
      * MLS (Apple?) has attracted low interest per WST articles
      .
      A more flattering interpretation is that Apple excel at marketing and will improve these properties. That could be part of an aggressive play to become broadly competitive with the Disney Bundle. If I read correctly, that is close to your thinking.
      .
      The Big Ten rights are in high demand, and ESPN and the Big Ten benefit from each other. If Apple TV+ beat ESPN for the non-FOX/BTN package, it is a big deal. Apple have the money to out-bid Disney and FOX might prefer sharing with Apple rather than ESPN. Interesting.

      • Michael

        April 21, 2022 at 5:51 pm

        @Dave. I don’t think we can paste links to other sites in the post. If you google the articles I saw was in Sports Business Journal Saying Fox has won the Tier 1 rights and would be in the meeting with the Tier 2 rights because they don’t have a streaming platform. The other one was in Awful Announcing where it talked about how now that Fox has the main rights, would ESPN allow CBS, NBC, Apple and Amazon to beat them for the second part of the package. Ironically, what caught my attention to begin with was that that NBC is going in with a Big Money bid on get 1 Big Ten game a week so that they had a double header with their Notre Dame Rights. I was wondering how would that affect their EPL coverage if they win it? Most of the B1G big games are at noon EST. Would that move the EPL game to USA or to Peacock? As I got into it, then I started to see the numbers thrown around for Big Ten getting up to $1 Billion per season if they accept all 3 or 4 packages. I don’t think MLS should wait much longer to get their deal with Apple Finalized eventually the money will run out.

        • Edwin

          April 21, 2022 at 9:40 pm

          On your last part that you think MLS shouldn’t wait much longer to get their deal with Apple finalized. Have you considered its done and signed?

          John Ourand practically for all intents was saying it was done and speaking on financial terms. He also aluded that about the NFL Apple deal being done but upon Apples request they don’t want to announce it.

          So it’s likely Apple is planning a splash announcement day or week for PR purposes to make a splash.

          • Michael

            April 23, 2022 at 12:40 am

            @Edwin. Great point.

  7. Mercator

    April 21, 2022 at 12:51 pm

    Apple TV+ would be ideal for MLS but I agree with Leo, it must be everything. No one is subscribing for a random game here or there, and really it just annoys viewers when there is one more subscription and app required to watch MLS. I still have Apple TV+ free somehow, but I would pay the $5 a month if it had all the MLS games. I’m not going to pay $5 a month if they just have the Fox games, or just have Wednesday Night Soccer or whatever. Actually the current situation isn’t bad at all because ESPN+ has most out of market games and Hulu still does not blackout local games. So everything is on ESPN+/Hulu except the national games, which I don’t watch and apparently no one else does either. Give everything to apple and if people want to watch on TV or cable they can do it in Spanish on Univision.

    ATV+ could really take MLS to the next level though. There are some great local market announcers out there who I’m sure would love to be with Apple instead of Bally Sports or whatever, so it shouldn’t be hard to find commentary talent. ATV+ baseball was full 1080p, it looked fantastic and would be a huge upgrade over not even 720p ESPN. They could do a full goalzone like saturday program (ties in will with Fri baseball and NFL on sunday). Plus, Apple could use the league to really tell stories about soccer in America (disabled kid who goes to local MLS games and loves it, poor family struggling to pay for boots but the kid is a local star, hometown kids now MLS star, etc). This sounds empty but part of MLS’s problem is that soccer is still not really seen an an AMERICAN sport. If they can even slightly alter those perceptions, it won’t just help the game grow it will help the American soccer league (MLS) grow despite foreign competition. Apple could easily do this with full rights through the 2026 World Cup.

  8. I.K.

    April 21, 2022 at 12:38 pm

    Also the production quality on Apple TV is amazing, if they gain a wider audience in the next couple of years I can see more sports leagues considering making the move.

  9. Leo

    April 21, 2022 at 11:46 am

    After Netflix catastrophe, it’s time all streaming services stop taking people as morons. Some executives don’t get that people will only pay in proportion to the quality of content/service. Netflix thought thousands of subscribers owes them something, anything, XD? Apple TV better not think people will subscribe to them for a piece of MLS. It’s all MLS or nothing.

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