It’s been more than 90 days since MLS struck its deal with Apple to exclusively broadcast every game from 2023 through 2032. Since then, the league hasn’t shared any more details about its broadcast plans for next season. And with the 2023 season rapidly approaching, time is running out.
Taking the domestic US league that was primarily a TV product and shifting it to a streaming-first soccer league is a seismic change. In doing so, it’s going to take plenty of time and consumer information to help MLS sow the seeds to be a successful product on Apple TV.
Questions MLS must answer before Apple TV debut
However, questions remain. Therefore, here are the 5 fundamental questions MLS must answer before Apple TV launch:
1) Television deals
While television is a small part of Major League Soccer’s future, as of press time none of the deals have been signed for 2023 onwards. Over twelve months ago, the three channels FOX Sports, ESPN and Univision were given a window of exclusivity to renew their MLS TV rights deals. All three broadcasters were lukewarm about the renewals, delaying their decision, and thus MLS fast-forwarded their exclusive, global streaming deal with Apple.
By doing so, the trio of FOX, ESPN and Univision no longer have any exclusivity to MLS games that they may be interested in broadcasting. Not only that, but they may feel that any MLS games they do show on linear television are only going to indirectly help sell subscriptions to Apple’s MLS app.
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With MLS getting into bed with Apple for an exclusive streaming deal, it creates friction between MLS and the incumbents. Each of the three broadcasters have their own streaming services (ESPN+, ViX+ and, to a lesser extent, Tubi) where they want exclusive games to show. Major League Soccer’s deal with Apple kills that possibility.
So why are the television deals our number one most fundamental question for MLS? Some fans may want to hold off on subscribing to Apple TV until they know what the TV landscape is going to look like. After all, if you can watch some of the big games on television, that may be enough for some fans. Vice versa, if the number of television choices are very minimal, that is going to incentivize fans to sign up to Apple TV.
To be frank, it’s difficult to see any upside for FOX, ESPN or Univision to broadcast MLS games. Possibly the only upside is if Major League Soccer would be willing to pay the trio of broadcasters for air-time.
As we wrote about in June, the success of Apple’s groundbreaking MLS deal hinges on pricing. Without knowing how Apple is going to price the MLS App on Apple, it’s hard to get too excited about the service.
Subsequently, the pricing for the MLS App on Apple TV is either going to make or break the service.
No official announcement has been made about who the MLS announcers are for the 2023 season. For many soccer fans, it’s important to know who the new voices are for broadcasts of their favorite teams. With local broadcasts from regional sports networks going away for Major League Soccer, it means that we’re likely to hear a new crop of voices calling games. It’s not going to be what we’re used to. Many of them are expected to be calling games off a monitor likely from a studio in South Florida. Meanwhile, MLS plans on sending a minimal number of crews on the road to call select games from stadiums.
The bond that soccer fans form with announcers is key to helping the league grow. It’s important to have qualified commentators and co-commentators calling games. Similarly, it’s important that MLS raises the bar on its coverage by hiring the best talent available.
Whether MLS can get the hiring decisions right on commentators is questionable. In the past, the broadcasters made the hiring decisions. Now, it’s Major League Soccer’s turn. Subsequently, will MLS hire the best talent available? Or will the league hire talent that conform to what the league wants them to say instead of being open and honest about what they see?
4) Games available for free
It’s expected that many MLS games will be available for free during the first few months of the 2023 season. That’s great news for fans who want to experience the MLS App on Apple TV. It’s also anticipated that games will be available for Apple TV+ subscribers too.
Which games and how many games will be available for free are certainly important things to know ahead of the 2023 season.
5) Availability on Android devices
If you’re an Apple iPhone user, you’re going to have very few issues with the user experience of watching MLS games. However, the same cannot be said for Android users. Nationwide, Android phones account for 46% of the US phones. Just as important, 53% of Hispanics use an Android in US, so MLS is at a disadvantage next year when trying to get people to sign up for the MLS App on Apple TV.
Why is that? There is no Apple TV app for Android users. Instead, currently the only way for Android users to watch a game is on their browser (or buying an Apple TV).
The sooner Android users find out if and when the MLS App will be available via Android devices, the better.
Let’s be clear. We’re bullish about the MLS deal with Apple. It’s a big win for cord cutters who want to watch every game via streaming without the headaches of dealing with television. At the same time, we’re hoping that Major League Soccer starts communicating with the media soon, so we can get the word out to you ahead of the 2023 season.
Photo credit: IMAGO / Icon Sportswire
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