Apple signed its landmark $2.5 billion deal with Major League Soccer last year to mark the company’s splash into streaming sports. Apple isn’t content to just air MLS games. It wants to reshape how they’re presented and consumed. That desire to innovate, while welcome in many regards, needs to be balanced with respect for soccer’s traditions.

Leading Apple’s charge into sports is Eddy Cue, senior vice president of services. As a lifelong sports fan, Cue believes that sports broadcasting is stuck in the past. He says it needs modernization in the streaming era. Cue’s vision for the future involves starting from the fan experience and using technology to enhance broadcasts. This mindset already led to innovations within MLS. For instance, MLS scheduled almost all its games for Saturdays and Wednesdays at 7:30 p.m. local time.

However, Cue also acknowledges there are limits on how much Apple can innovate with soccer.

“We have to play by a lot of FIFA rules,” Cue admitted. He cannot make common sense changes like displaying game clocks to show exactly how much time remains after the 90 minutes. Cue feels he has to be “resigned” to accept such rules even if they don’t align with his vision for enhancing broadcasts.

Balancing Innovation and Tradition

This tension reveals the balance that within soccer – room for innovation exists. Yet, it cannot come at the cost of disrespecting the sport’s heritage and traditions. Apple, as well as other broadcasters, has plenty of options for improving the broadcast experience without contradicting FIFA rules.

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For example, the always-controversial VAR room presents an opportunity for broadcasters. Fans want to know what these referees are saying to one another as they discuss infractions. Not only does it provide a new experience to fans. It allows the rules within FIFA to play out unobstructed. The Premier League has dabbled in releasing these conversations after games. At the 2023 Women’s World Cup, referees explained decisions rather than just signaling with hands. Apple can help MLS take it one step further.

Within the constraints of those traditions, Apple is still finding ways to improve the broadcasting experience. MLS reeled in Lionel Messi with a contract rewarding new MLS Season Pass subscriptions. This unprecedented move is already paying dividends for the broadcaster.

“There’s no question that we looked a lot smarter the day that Messi decided to come to MLS,” Cue said, acknowledging Messi’s value.

Apple uses features like “Close Game” alerts. These notify viewers of down-to-the-wire finishes. Therefore, Apple can innovate while working within soccer’s established framework.

Treading Carefully

But soccer fans are protective of their game’s traditions. In addition to the game clocks, Cue suggested slight changes to player equipment. He wants to put microphones and headphones on a player during warm-ups to chat with them. Despite Cue’s good intentions, these changes can draw backlash.

Time will tell if Apple can attract fans through broadcast improvements while maintaining soccer’s essence. If Apple accomplishes this, it may become a major player in sports media. Still, Apple must tread carefully and avoid changes that can undermine the traditions that make soccer the beautiful game.

With a balanced approach, Apple can bring needed innovation to modernize broadcasts without distorting the sport’s foundations. Soccer aficionados will welcome progress but oppose alterations that show disrespect. By embracing this nuanced perspective, Apple can rewrite the rules of sports broadcasting without rewriting the rules of the game itself. The potential to enhance access and viewing experiences exists if change is executed judiciously.