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MLS takes a big bite out of Apple TV: World Soccer Talk Podcast

In the NEW episode, number 1423, Christopher Harris is joined by co-host Kartik Krishnaiyer. They discuss:

• The relief of MLS finalizing its new media rights deal (well, almost),
• What the new MLS media deal means for soccer fans and the league,
• Why Major League Soccer announced the deal now, and what it tells us,
• Our thoughts and insight about the 16 cities named to host the 2026 World Cup,
• Peacock is ready to spring a new surprise to fans of Premier League clubs,
• Whether Arlo White is employable by future broadcasters in the US,
• Does Concacaf deserve more credit compared to UEFA and CONMEBOL,
• England’s woes under head coach Gareth Southgate,
• And we answer the questions from you, the listeners.

Listen to the show via the player above or via this link.

Launched in 2006, the World Soccer Talk Podcast is the longest running podcast on the planet. Every week, we share the latest news about watching soccer on television and streaming, in addition to discussing what we like and dislike, and featuring your questions and feedback in our Listener Mailbag segment.

HEAR MORE: Listen to our archive featuring hundreds of soccer interviews

Send in your questions, comments and feedback via e-mail, via Twitter (@worldsoccertalk) or Facebook. We’ll read them out on-air in the next episode.

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  1. Ra

    June 21, 2022 at 2:14 pm

    It will be interesting to see if ESPN will put their weight behind USL instead…

  2. Ra

    June 20, 2022 at 1:30 pm

    To me, the most interesting fact is that ESPN was not interested. They have MLS games on ESPN+, they also have MLS on Star+ in Latin America. They have access to all the viewership ratings of these properties. They are the ones that had all the data to do a proper long-term valuation. It is interesting to hear that they believe it is not worth it. I am sure MLS would rather have ESPN as a global partner.
    Another point – with inflation, this deal might seem horrible for MLS 5-10 years from now.

    For Apple, I believe they were interested on the global rights not because they see it as a big opportunity, but to to showcase to NBA, NHL and others how they could benefit from a global, centralized offering.

    • dave

      June 20, 2022 at 2:55 pm

      @Ra, I believe you follow club soccer TV/streaming rights in South America. Can you provide detail on Star+? I think it rolls up to Disney+ but maybe I have that wrong. Is it similar to ESPN+ with many sports and leagues available for a few dollars per month?
      Specific to MLS-Apple, I am curious about potential in Central and South America. Have interested customers in those regions had the option to follow MLS in their preferred language by signing up for Star+? If so, is impact of this deal in Latin America possibly similar to impact of a league moving between ESPN+ and Paramount+ in the US?

      • Ra

        June 20, 2022 at 3:46 pm

        @Dave I follow the streaming rights in Brazil only. Star+ is the combination of Hulu + ESPN+ there. It goes for BRL33.00 ($6.37) per mo, or BRL45.90 ($8.85) in combination with Disney+. For this price, they offer TV shows and movies like Hulu and the following Sports:
        EPL (every single games – some are simulcast on ESPN), and all games of the following soccer competitions: LaLiga, Serie A, Ligue 1, Eredivise, Argentinean and Portuguese. They also offer MLS matches (I am not sure if all of them).
        They also offer NFL (including MNF), NBA, MotoGP, US Open, PGA, Masters, etc.
        It is the best cost benefit that I know of. A true bargain.

        In Brazil, the only competition that is expensive to watch is the Brasileirao. The PPV costs BRL59.90 per month. Bundesliga is free on OneFootball there. Every game, including Bundesliga 2.

        To me, the concept of MLS trying to expand to LA is laughable. ESPN has been successful in increasing the audience for NFL and NBA there. If people want to watch American sports, they will tune to that. Star+ also offer NFL with the original English narration. I can see that growing.
        MLS will not grow there, even for free. There is plenty to choose from. And ESPN has been promoting EPL heavily. They just renewed their contract, and honestly, they are much better at it than Peacock/NBC. EPL has growing at a fast pace.
        And the question is – if you are living 5,000 miles away, why would you pick MLS over EPL (for very cheap) or Bundesliga (for free)? Most of the interest is for the local teams. For international leagues, EPL (the most rich league nowadays), Serie A (plenty of Italian immigrants), Bundesliga (German immigrants) and Portuguese league command the interest there. Honestly, I can’t see MLS gaining traction, even if it is offered for free like it is with Bundesliga.

        • Ra

          June 20, 2022 at 3:49 pm

          PS: They also offered Nations league and the NBA finals. The official site is region-locked, but you can have an idea on what they have been offering on this site:
          https //

          • Ra

            June 20, 2022 at 3:55 pm

            Back to your question. Yes, ESPN offers MLS in Portuguese on Star+. They also broadcast USL, Aussie Rules Football, you name it. See their listings for this week:
            https //

        • Ra

          June 20, 2022 at 4:07 pm

          It is funny that I hear on WST that the soccer streaming landscape is the best in the world for users. All this based on sample size of 2 countries – USA and UK.

        • dave

          June 20, 2022 at 6:13 pm

          @Ra, thank you for the great detail about Star+ Brazil. Looks like an incredibly good value for Brazilian customers who enjoy sports from outside Brazil
          I am struggling a bit to hypothesize where a bolus of new paying MLS customers might come from. Time zones may not work for many in Europe and Africa. Seems there have been decent options to watch MLS in the Americas. China and India Sunday AM local time? US customers dissuaded from MLS by unpredictable windows, blackouts, RSN, FS1, etc.? It is a crowded landscape with widespread, cheap access to good soccer and other sports. Years 5-10 could feel like a lifetime if the bet does not pan out

          • Ra

            June 20, 2022 at 7:15 pm

            I don’t think Apple will measure success by viewership growth. They won’t need to report viewership numbers. They want to get their feet wet, and a success story to show them as a viable partner for NFL, NBA, and other global sports. That is why global rights were important to them.

            MLS is not able to drive national interest. It is wishful thinking to think that it will appeal internationally. Why would someone pick it over the big EU leagues?

            I read MLS planning to offer it in Portuguese as a way of reaching immigrant communities in the US, especially in South FL and Boston.

            • dave

              June 20, 2022 at 8:07 pm

              @Ra, we are on a similar page as far as Apple. I lean towards this deal possibly being part of a “fail fast” mindset. Test hypotheses, experiment, optimize models, etc. Better to do that for $250 million per year than $25 billion per year. Your version is a more optimistic side of the same coin – showcase a (presumed) successful prototype
              I think MLS may be at-risk in years 5-10. They could be locked in at $250 million per year while paying large production expenses. I suspect MLS are counting on high subscription revenue sharing so that the deal makes long-term economic sense for them

            • Mercator

              June 21, 2022 at 9:25 am

              No one will pick it over the big European leagues, but if you look at the leagues in the US timezone, MLS is probably making the most from TV at $250m a year. Already MLS can buy up good players from most of the Americas, at $250m a year I bet they are making more than any league outside of Europe. It’s never going to be one of the most popular or anything, but it will be able to create an international market for itself simply based on its timezone exclusivity and ability to buy up top players from everywhere but Europe.

              • dave

                June 21, 2022 at 1:04 pm

                @Mercator, the latest MLS CBA has a rider that “…players also will share in the increased revenue generated by MLS’ new media agreements beginning in in 2023. MLS will increase player spending by an amount equal to 12.5 percent of the incremental media revenue, as defined in the CBA, in 2023 and 2024, increasing to 25 percent for the 2025, 2026 and 2027 seasons”
                To keep math easy, suppose the Apple deal counts as $240 million incremental and there are 30 teams. $8 million incremental per team per year means $1 million per team more salary in 2023-2024 and $2 million per team more salary in 2025-2027
                Maximum roster spend per team in the MLS CBA is $10 million in 2023 and $13 million in 2027, (can be exceeded by 3 designated players and 3 under-22 players). Relative to base roster maxima, the Apple deal is ~10% boost to player budgets in 2023 and ~15% boost in 2027. Meaningful but not game changing
                The 12.5% and 25% are stingy by US league standards. I have not read every CBA, but leagues and players are usually in the ballpark of a 50-50 revenue split

              • dave

                June 21, 2022 at 1:46 pm

                @Mercator, your idea about MLS’ ability to spend relative to competitors in the time zone intrigued me. Average salary data from a few years ago on Reddit:
                * EPL $4 million USD per player (#1 in world)
                * Brazil $675,000 USD per player (#9 in world, #1 in Americas)
                * MLS $425,000 USD per player (#11 in world, #2 in Americas)
                * Liga MX $400,000 USD per player (#13 in world, #3 in Americas)
                * Argentina $375,000 USD per player (#14 in world, #4 in Americas)
                The DP in MLS drives significant right-skew in salaries. If incremental revenue from Apple flows to players other than DP, it could help MLS shore up the caliber of the second-tier starters and main substitutes. That is often where Liga MX teams have been historically superior to MLS teams. Not sure MLS can catch up to Brazil

                • Ra

                  June 21, 2022 at 2:13 pm

                  Agree. Also, MLS would be competing with the top EU leagues for top LA talent. And they would be competing with the local leagues, that have deep roots in their communities. So, the hypothesis is that people would tune away from their childhood teams to watch 2nd rate players? That doesn’t make any sense. EU leagues are gaining popularity there exactly because they are in a different time zone. It is something great to watch in the morning when local teams are not on display.

                • Mercator

                  June 21, 2022 at 4:30 pm

                  @Dave, good breakdown on the salaries and I think that demonstrates what I’m trying to say. MLS is at 425k with a 90 million broadcast deal, bump that to 250 million and it’s going to push MLS past Brazil and leave Liga MX and Argentina in the dust. The CBA will ensure that some of this money goes across the full roster and isn’t blown on a few DPs. I would also think that given the u-22 rule, you will quickly see MLS flex its new money by going out to leagues like Brazil, Mexico and Argentina and paying top dollar for their best young talent (MLS team will absolutely be able to pay more for top players given the DP/U-22 rule – clubs without salary restrictions actually need to balance a huge outlay for top players against the rest of the wage structure). The US is also an attractive destination just from a QOL perspective – it’s not like convincing people to play in China. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think the MLS teams will be better on the field than the top of the Brazilian league anytime soon, but Man United is trash and yet they have a huge following and huge international revenues in part because they can afford to buy very big names, even when they aren’t that good. Given MLS’s enforced parity and the lack of enforced parity in other leagues, MLS is in a situation where basically either all of its teams will be better than any team in another league, or they will all be worse since they are forced into a pretty narrow band of competitiveness. The best MLS teams are not better than the best Liga MX teams now, but once they are then basically every MLS team will be better than the best Liga MX teams (which I think will happen during this 10 yr rights window).

                  @RA – No one is turning away from their local clubs, the MLS isn’t going to be more popular than Serie A or EPL in Brazil. But it will get on the radar. Wednesday night with no other football on, Miami v. New York, I think that gets some interest. Again, its not going to be game changing interest but the world is big and 5k viewers in Brazil, England, Colombia or wherever can add up and most importantly will lend credibility to the MLS as a serious football league that people (even outside the US) know about. If Brazilians and Brits have something positive to say about the MLS, you are much more likely to find Americans who will have a positive view as well.

                • dave

                  June 21, 2022 at 6:26 pm

                  @Mercator, how do you see MLS going past Brazil? If I am reading the CBA right, $240 million incremental media in 2027 would drive $2 million per club salary increase. Split across, say, 25 players for an average of $80,000 extra per player per year. Opens a gap with Liga MX and Argentina, I agree
                  I do not understand from the CBA how (and how much) DP and U-22 are funded. Makes sense that MLS owners might also use extra cash in areas outside the CBA
                  An interesting twist is your thoughts on MLS vs. Liga MX. I have read that Apollo offered Liga MX $1.25 billion for 20% of ex-Mexico rights for 50 years, contingent on Liga MX selling ex-Mexico rights as a single entity. Supposedly Liga MX owners are lukewarm on working with each other or Apollo. But if MLS salaries grow to where Liga MX cannot compete, they may rethink
                  It will be interesting and dynamic times. I am finding it educational and amusing and I am glad Apple and MLS made the deal. Shake things up and see what happens

  3. Rob

    June 20, 2022 at 1:02 pm

    Very interesting discussion this week.

    I thought one of the more interesting points was with respect to local TV. On the one hand, I agree with Kartik that there is some level of prestige that comes with being on “the” local RSN. That makes it easy to go to a bar and have them put the game on. On the other, in many MLS markets, that is not now and has not consistently ever been the case. In some, the carriage battles between the RSN and largest television providers take MLS teams off of a large swath of televisions in a market. I think channel surfing is a practice of the past so that idea that MLS teams would hook that person just cruising on by the channel is a bit of a piece of wishful thinking. Still, many sports fans – probably your best bet at “hooking” someone – do subscribe to cable a bit more, so hopefully there might be some room to get the games simulcast on local TV?

    One thing I think would be intriguing would be to really normalize the MLS game windows during this next deal, like we have with the NFL and Premier League. I think this past Saturday would be a good model – perhaps have the biggest games stand alone in windows at 3 and 5 eastern, with waves of games at 7 and 9:30 (these last two would mimic the 10 am Window in England or the 1 and 4:30 NFL windows you get every Sunday). I could definitely see some value in having a dedicated ESPN linear game on Sunday as well – but it has to be at a consistent time.

  4. Jasinho

    June 18, 2022 at 2:38 pm

    For the selection of the World Cup Cities, I think FIFA got it right on this one.

    The global audience are going to want to visit the cities that are deemed to be global or at least global oriented. The only reason why Boston got in is because of Patriots owner Robert Kraft and its relatively close proximity to New York and Philly plus the availability of flights to Miami. I also suspect Kansas City got in instead of Denver because of the Hunt family and their historical ties to US soccer. Plus KC would be much easier to get to from the cities within its designated central region.

    While Nashville is definitely punching above its weight the last several years, I am hardly convinced they are ready to host an event of that magnitude. Perhaps the 2024 Copa America if held in the US would give them an opportunity to demonstrate otherwise.

    I am a bit sad for Orlando, but they likely lost because their stadium pales in comparison to the NFL stadiums that were selected.

    I have a whole lot of disdain for D.C. so I am glad they weren’t selected.
    I feel the same way about Chicago, but I think they were omitted because of their stadium is lacking compared to others, plus they have a safety issue.

  5. jason

    June 18, 2022 at 9:11 am

    The 2nd Bundesliga starts on July 15, while the main Bundesliga starts on Aug 15. I hope ESPN Plu will give us multiple games from that league at least for the month prior to the start of the main league.

    • Leo

      June 20, 2022 at 2:32 pm

      August 15? No. Bundesliga starts on August 5 (Bayern on the first day). DFB-Pokal starts on July 29 (Dortmund on first day).

  6. Mercator

    June 18, 2022 at 8:36 am

    Good pod again, a lot of interesting stuff going on for US fans. I agree no Chicago is a big miss (although Chicago is clearly America’s THIRD city). I would have loved to see Vegas as well (if it were in the running), fantastic new stadium and outside of Miami, NY and LA it’s probably the city fans want to visit the most. I think Nashville would have been better than KC but you know US soccer fans are deluded and think there is some romance to playing in Ohio or Missouri or other places that frankly no one is interested in. Orlando didn’t stand a chance with the stadium and Miami’s selection, but again probably a city visiting fans would love to go to compared to some of the other selections.

    I think Kartik is CRAZY to think there is some benefit to being on RSN’s today. RSN’s are killing MLB, NHL and NBA in many markets because its completely inaccessible and criminally priced. It’s not a prestige thing, it’s just a sign the team is ripping you off. My RSN shows high school sports most of the time, these are not prestige channels. Actually I realized I ONLY watch my local MLB team on Apple – its 1080p and easily accessible. Sure I can pirate my local RSN but that’s not worth the effort for baseball. But on apple, wow its right there in 1080p on a Friday night, sure I’ll watch a bit. MLS doesn’t need RSNs, it doesn’t need ESPN or Fox, it needs a broadcaster that will take it seriously (like NBC has with the EPL it pains me to say). I do think MLS should break its back to ensure it has a linear TV deal with Univision – those are fans you lose to Liga MX or other things if its not on OTA Univision en Español. But ESPN and Fox have abused MLS and if anything makes MLS seem like a fake or second tier league, it’s these two broadcasters. But for all my shouting as of late and all my justification and praise of Apple – I think Chris is right, MLS just took the biggest $$$ deal it could get and everything else was secondary or incidental.

    I’m pro Southgate as well – good temperament and he has overachieved at the last 2 major tournaments. It would be insane to change direction at this stage, but never underestimate the English ability to bottle a major tournament. Ditching Southgate before the WC would be disastrously on brand.

    Peacock only recently became usable, no surprise they are cutting it from being free for Xfinity customers. Well I will not pay. If they give an option to watch every EPL match on Peacock I’m in, even at a higher price, but I’m not paying for half the games. I already pirate the linear TV games, not a big switch at all to do the same with the Peacock games. I’m willing to pay – I’ll pay for ESPN+ for La Liga, Paramount+ for UCL and Apple for MLS – but I’m not going to pay for half the games even if it is my top league.

    I would love for MLS to bring Arlo in to commentate. I don’t think he will be blackballed – broadcasters who have big deals with the PGA tour obviously will hold a grudge…but that’s not MLS or Apple and I don’t think any soccer fans care about what golf matches Arlo also comments on. I actually think Twellman would be an incredible get for Apple/MLS as well – I know some people don’t like him, but he is enthusiastic and actually quite well informed on US soccer. I also trust him to say what needs to be said and to not completely toe the company line, which will be important if MLS is producing all of its own matches.

  7. Chris Guardiano

    June 18, 2022 at 12:27 am

    Hi guys,
    When it comes to Apple TV getting MLS, I think it is the biggest acquisition so far for Apple TV when it comes to sports even bigger than them getting Friday night MLB games. The only thing that would be bigger is Apple TV getting the remains of NFL Sunday Ticket should DirectTV decide to pull the plug on that. As a current Apple TV subscriber, I am happy that I will be able to watch Seattle games without blackout restrictions & the need for cable. Because of this deal, I also think that Apple TV will go after the rights to both Serie A & the UEFA club competitions once their deals with CBS end in a few years. Lastly, I fully agree with Chris that MLS does need a linear TV component in order to sustain its growth going forward.

  8. dave

    June 17, 2022 at 5:20 pm

    Great discussion this week. The MLS-Apple deal is big news for sports rights generally and soccer specifically. I look forward to your articles as you learn more and evolve your perspectives. A few reactions:
    * Kudos to MLS-Apple for consistent match windows, whip-around shows, and zero blackouts
    * I respect your critical thinking on MLS-Apple. Many opinions seem overly certain about how everything will play out in the next decade. Acknowledging the very high uncertainty significantly enhances your credibility
    * Agree timing of the MLS-Apple announcement was weird – far later than MLS’ promised deadlines yet also with important details not buttoned down. There must be a fascinating backstory
    * As you plan additional articles, I hope you talk about global implications. A big wild card is whether there is a bolus of fans outside US-Canada who are eager to follow MLS. Apple will have great marketing and a slick app, but does the product resonate enough to get a lot of people outside MLS’ home territory to pay?
    * I enjoyed the FOX-Telemundo joint announcement of World Cup cities. Would be great if they find more opportunities to partner publicly during Qatar and with the long run-up to 2026

  9. Cpcva

    June 17, 2022 at 4:18 pm

    If I remember correctly fifa didn’t pass up world games to Chicago. Chicago passed them up.

  10. jason

    June 17, 2022 at 2:37 pm

    At about the one hour two minute mark, Kartik says great stuff about the Gold Cup. What is needed is a 24 team Copa America that takes place every 4 years at the exact same time as the Euros. It would be close to World Cup level interest if you have Euro and a full Western Hemisphere Copa happen at same time. Both 24 team tournaments using the exact same formats. Maybe a match between the winners of the two tournaments in the fall of that same year for a bragging rights cup game. Kinda like the Italy vs Argentina match that happened a couple weeks back. But again for the fall.

    • Rob

      June 17, 2022 at 2:56 pm

      Just to piggyback on @jason ‘s comment, it would be fun to have basically a single confederation consisting of a combined CONCACAF and CONMEBOL. You’d have an interesting and more challenging qualification process and, while I recognize the issues presented by travel between, say, Vancouver and Buenos Aires, a pan-American Copa Libertadores would be a lot of fun to watch every year.

      • Michael

        June 17, 2022 at 5:28 pm

        @Rob & @Jason. I agree with both of you, but I thought the reason that that we don’t have that now is that the 10 nations in South American don’t want the tournament expanded into North American because of travel. I may be wrong, I am sure Chris or Kartik would be able to correct me. The point is, it would be great from our perspective…but if the don’t want to Expand Copa America or if FIFA doesn’t want to combine CONCACAF and CONMEBOL then it is a moot point to even talk about it. Now, because there are only 10 nations in South America, I can see them inviting other countries like they did this year in order to fill out the bracket…but all the games were still in South America. I really don’t think that they would agree to something that would cause travel back and forth between continents. Europe is a small continent. The Land area of North and South American are much much greater. That’s just my opinion. I would love to be proven wrong.

        • dave

          June 17, 2022 at 6:08 pm

          @Michael, I had read a bit of chatter that Copa America 2024 might be held in the US with CONCACAF participation. That seems to have died down; if so, Copa America 2024 will likely be in Ecuador (it is their turn) or Peru (if Ecuador infrastructure insufficient)
          Copa America 2021 was too small. The invitees (Australia, Qatar) were out due to virus impacts, so group stage allowed 4 out of 5 to advance. Supposedly the plan for 2024 (if not held in US) is 12-16 teams and 3-4 cities. We will see

          • jason

            June 17, 2022 at 8:46 pm

            Seriously Copa America needs to be 24 teams and use the exact same format as the Euros and take place at the same time too. Even the finals should be on the same day. Doable with the time zone differences.

            • Mercator

              June 18, 2022 at 8:43 am

              Fifa should be 4 confederations: Asia, Africa, Europe and Americas. They should all basically follow the UEFA structure with Nations League and the Euros – this actually works when every confederation has 50+ members instead of some confederations with 10 members or 20 islands as is the case now. I just don’t think the incentives are there – an Americas confederation would seriously compete with UEFA and the South Americans (justifiably) have little interest in playing Dominica or the Bahamas.

        • Rob

          June 20, 2022 at 9:45 am

          @Michael – definitely agree that we wouldn’t want to “force” anything with respect to CONMEBOL. Travel would be the biggest issue for a continental club competition, not quite as much for a Nations League or tournaments. Maybe a club competition could be modeled after AFC Champions League, which employs eastern and western zones up into the later stages of the tournament. But I think a big part of CONMEBOL’s interest would be financial, so getting the big Brazilian and Argentinian clubs consistently playing up in the United States would be part of that. Fun to dream – but Mexican clubs participated successfully in the first half of the 2010s, so maybe there’s a possibility.

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