We can safely say that the honeymoon period for MLS Season Pass is over. Five gameweeks are in the can. Apple continues to make small improvements. However, reality has set home. We’re now experiencing what most of us feel every MLS season. The buzz from the first few weeks has worn off. And with much of the regular season being rather meaningless until we get closer to the playoffs in late July, we are now back to status quo.
The biggest question for MLS and Apple is, now what?
Seriously there isn’t much to look forward to in MLS season 2023 between now and July. The transfer window opens July 5. The MLS All-Stars against Arsenal game follows on July 19. Then, Leagues Cup begins on July 21.
So what are we supposed to do between now and July? April through June are three long months where there isn’t much planned in MLS to get us hyped. That’s one of the major perils of having a regular season where more than 60% of the teams make the playoffs.
MLS’ annual siesta between April and June
So far this season, St Louis City has been a fun watch. So too have FC Cincinnati. But those two storylines aren’t enough to propel a league.
The lack of excitement is telling in the viewing numbers from FOX Sports. For last Saturday’s game between LA Galaxy and Portland Timbers, the game averaged 266,000 viewers. And that was on big FOX, the over-the-air network. For 2023 thus far, it’s the smallest audience for a sports game on FOX network TV.
At the same time, MLS Season Pass has lost some of its buzz. Most people who were interested in signing up for the streaming service have already handed over their money. And at a time where Apple and MLS should be launching a major advertising campaign, it all seems to have gone quiet.
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MLS Season Pass honeymoon numbers aren’t available
Behind the scenes, executives are working on trying to secure a deal to bring Lionel Messi to MLS. That alone would be music to the ears of Apple executives and the league. However, ESPN reports that Messi is prioritizing staying at a top level club in Europe if and when he does leave PSG this summer.
Meanwhile, closer to home, Apple have not released any streaming numbers or metrics about MLS Season Pass to date.
Bottom line, the shame of this quiet spell for MLS between April and June is that MLS and Apple have created a very attractive streaming product in MLS Season Pass. While not perfect by any means, it has a lot of the bells and whistles that cord-cutters want. No blackouts. Excellent picture quality. A whip-around show. Consistent kickoff times. Quality commentators, etcetera.
However, in a point that I raised with Taylor Twellman when I interviewed him in February, MLS is missing a big, new transfer signing that would have gotten soccer fans more excited about MLS Season Pass. With the World Cup happening in November through December, everything got turned upside down. That big transfer, such as Messi, may not happen until this summer. But still, who are the big stars playing right now that are getting MLS fans excited? Other than Thiago Almada, there aren’t many that are hot right now.
Time for change
No doubt, Apple and MLS have created a quality (but not perfect) product with MLS Season Pass. The league has come a long way and has made some dramatic changes to get here. However, there is so much more than can be done. The biggest issue for neutrals is this: Give me a reason to watch the regular season. That still holds true, and nothing has changed. If anything, it’s gotten worse because the number of teams that make the playoffs has increased.
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So where does MLS go from here?
These are issues that have been a long time coming, but have been ignored and unresolved. MLS seasons are based on a traditional American sports model that is broken in a globalized world where we, as viewers, can watch any game from around the globe. The MLS regular season model is focused on keeping local fans buying tickets to see their team every other week. It’s not a model that keeps TV or streaming viewers engaged throughout the regular season. Instead, the vast majority of soccer fans in the United States watch leagues from overseas such as the two most popular ones, the Premier League and Liga MX.
At its core, MLS needs to face the reality of calling most of its regular season a loss every year. If it doesn’t change, it may find that MLS Season Pass soon becomes MLS Regular Season PASS where soccer fans only subscribe for the playoffs when games really matter.
The sooner the league and fans come to terms with the changes that are needed to improve the sport in this country, the better. MLS Season Pass is a fantastic streaming platform, but it’s only as good as the product that it broadcasts.
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