It’s been more than 90 days since MLS reached its agreement with Apple to exclusively broadcast every game from 2023 to 2033. Since then, the league has not shared further details on its broadcast plans for next season. And with the 2023 season fast approaching, time is running out.
Taking the US National League that was primarily a TV product and turning it into the first streaming football league is a seismic shift. In doing so, it will take a lot of time and consumer information to help MLS sow the seeds to become a successful product on Apple TV.
Questions MLS needs to answer ahead of Apple TV debut
However, questions remain. Here are the 5 fundamental questions that MLS must answer before the launch of Apple TV:
1) TV Deals
While television is a small part of Major League Soccer’s future, at press time none of the deals have been signed for 2023 and beyond. More than twelve months ago, the three channels FOX Sports, ESPN and Univision were granted an exclusive window to renew their MLS TV rights agreements. All three broadcasters were lukewarm about renewals, delaying their decision, and so MLS accelerated its exclusive global streaming deal with Apple.
In doing so, the FOX, ESPN and Univision trio no longer have any exclusivity on any MLS games they might be interested in streaming. Not only that, but they may feel like any MLS games they air on linear TV will only indirectly help sell subscriptions to Apple’s MLS app.
With MLS getting into bed with Apple for an exclusive streaming deal, it’s creating friction between MLS and the incumbents. Each of the three broadcasters has their own streaming services (ESPN+, ViX+ and, to a lesser extent, Tubi) where they want to stream exclusive games. Major League Soccer’s deal with Apple kills that possibility.
So why are TV deals our most fundamental question for MLS? Some fans may want to wait to subscribe to Apple TV until they know what the television landscape will look like. After all, if you can watch some of the big games on TV, that may be enough for some fans. Conversely, if the number of TV choices is very minimal, it will entice fans to sign up for Apple TV.
To be frank, it’s hard to see an advantage for FOX, ESPN or Univision to broadcast MLS matches. Perhaps the only advantage is that Major League Soccer would be willing to pay the trio of broadcasters for airtime.
As we wrote in June, the success of Apple’s groundbreaking MLS deal hinges on pricing. Without knowing how Apple will price the MLS app on Apple, it’s hard to get too excited about the service.
Success of Apple’s groundbreaking MLS deal hinges on pricing
Subsequently, the price of the MLS app on Apple TV will make or break the service.
No official announcement has been made on the identity of MLS announcers for the 2023 season. For many football fans, it is important to know who the new voices are for the broadcasts of their favorite teams. With the demise of local regional sports network broadcasts for Major League Soccer, that means we’ll likely hear a new generation of voices calling for games. It will not be what we are used to. Many of them are expected to call games on a monitor likely coming from a South Florida studio. Meanwhile, MLS plans to send a minimal number of teams on the road to call certain games from stadiums.
The connection football fans make with advertisers is key to helping the league grow. It is important to have qualified commentators and co-commentators who call plays. Similarly, it is important that MLS raises the bar for its coverage by hiring the best talent available.
It’s debatable whether MLS can get the right hiring decisions on commentators. In the past, broadcasters made the hiring decisions. Now it’s Major League Soccer’s turn. Going forward, will MLS hire the best talent available? Or will the league hire talent who conforms to what the league wants them to say instead of being open and honest about what they see?
4) Games available for free
Many MLS games are expected to be available for free in the first few months of the 2023 season. This is great news for fans looking to experience the MLS app on Apple TV. The games are also expected to be available to Apple TV+ subscribers as well.
Which games and how many games will be available for free are definitely important things to know ahead of the 2023 season.
Welcome @Apple TV to the MLS family!
Learn more: https://t.co/iCPXGVbGyK pic.twitter.com/kowMze8fA1
—Don Garber (@thesoccerdon) June 14, 2022
5) Availability on Android devices
If you are an Apple iPhone user, you will have very few issues with the user experience of watching MLS games. However, the same cannot be said for Android users. Nationally, Android phones account for 46% of US phones. Equally important, 53% of Hispanics use an Android in the United States, 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 Android users can watch a game is on their browser (or by buying an Apple TV).
The sooner Android users find out if and when the MLS app will be available through Android devices, the better.
Let’s be clear. We are bullish on the MLS deal with Apple. It’s a big win for cord cutters who want to stream every game without the TV headaches. At the same time, we hope that Major League Soccer will start communicating with the media soon, so that we can get the word out to you ahead of the 2023 season.
Photo credit: IMAGO / Icon Sportswire