Major League Soccer has gained significant public interest since its inaugural season in 1996. There is, however, still work to do to catch other major sports leagues in the United States. Viewership in MLS remains an extremely distant fifth among these top sports leagues here Stateside.

MLS is attempting to boost its ratings and broadcasting revenue in its deal with Apple. The two sides previously agreed to a massive 10-year, $2.5 billion contract ahead of the 2023 season. The league earns $250 million annually in the deal. This agreement is a sizable increase compared to the $95 million per year deal MLS teams previously received.

Soccer fans Stateside now have to subscribe to Apple’s MLS Season Pass to watch their favorite team. While obtaining official viewership statistics on the streaming service would be interesting, Apple has opted to keep these figures close to its chest. Nevertheless, a recent report claims that MLS Season Pass recently reached two million subscribers.

Expert says MLS cannot continue relying on Messi to boost viewership

This particular number is not exactly that impressive and Apple/MLS will hope that more fans soon subscribe to the service. This, however, could prove to be difficult. According to John Ourand, an expert on sports business, MLS Season Pass may find it hard to attract casual soccer fans.

“How will MLS draw in more casual viewers? Every major league is figuring out how to balance the switch in behavior from linear to streaming, but the NBA and NFL and MLB are American institutions with zillions of fans,” claimed Ourand.

“MLS, on the other hand, is an often-imperiled upstart that is constantly competing for market and mind share—and going all in with one company, even if it’s the biggest company in the world, risks closing the top of the marketing funnel. Disney, Fox, Paramount, NBC, and their tens of millions of viewers have no incentive to help market MLS.”

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The addition of Lionel Messi to MLS has undoubtedly aided the league’s viewership. MLS Season Pass subscriptions went up 280% ahead of the superstar’s league debut compared to those who signed up on the first day of the 2023 season.

Nevertheless, Ourand says that relying on the Messi Effect is not exactly a solid long-term plan. “Messi certainly has helped, at least for Inter Miami, but MLS needs to find a way to get casual fans to take more of an interest in its games,” continued Ourand.

Advertisers frustrated over Apple’s reluctance to release MLS Season Pass subs

Along with claiming that Major League Soccer will have a hard time attracting casual fans, Ourand also does not expect Apple to release official viewership figures. The tech company has come under fire recently for not revealing subscription statistics. This is even though most other broadcasting companies regularly release these numbers. As a result of Apple’s decision, advertisers are not thrilled with the company.

“Will Apple become more transparent about usage figures? Quick answer: It won’t,” stated Ourand. “But that secretive attitude doesn’t play well in the sports business.”

“Last season, I heard consistent grumbles from advertisers and sponsors that were kept in the dark about how many people were actually watching the games. For all the complaints about how Nielsen collects its TV viewership numbers, advertisers get far more information from television networks.”

Guide to Major League Soccer

Here are some resources to help you get the most out of MLS Season Pass!
TV Schedule: All the info on where and when to watch every game
Season Pass FAQ: We answer your questions about MLS Season Pass
Sign up: Learn how to subscribe to MLS Season Pass
Commentators: Check out who's calling the action for the MLS season
Android users Tips for fans Android users on how to watch MLS Season Pass