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Everything You Wanted to Know About AppleTV+ and MLS’s New Streaming Deal

Written By Kate Kosturski

Where can I watch today's game? 

And every week, that answer is different. Sometimes it's your local affiliate (if you have one). Sometimes it's ABC. Or Fox Sports. Or UniMas. And if you're an out of market fan (like me), if the game's not airing nationally, you have to pay for ESPN+ to follow your team. 

Next year, there's only going to be one answer to that question, as MLS and AppleTV announced a 10 year deal to have the streamer be the exclusive home for MLS games. The deal, reported to be around $2.5 billion, will put all MLS, Leagues Cup, and MLS Next matches on the streaming service. With the success of Ted Lasso, it's a match made in heaven.  

This is obviously not Apple's first venture into live sports; they signed a deal with Major League Baseball (MLB) to stream two Friday night games starting in the 2022 season, complete with their own pre and post-game shows, broadcast teams, and production teams. Those that have watched those games certainly read this news with a bit of trepidation, since those broadcasts have been rocky at best and plain awful at their worst. The idea of having to pay for yet another streaming service does not sit well with fans either. And with this deal, local broadcasts end completely, so if you watch Charlotte FC over the air on WSOC or WAXN, that won't be available to you next season. '

(It's important to note that Fox, ESPN, and Univision are still negotiating rights for over the air broadcasts, so linear TV should still remain an option for fans. We'll keep an eye on these developments over the next few months.) 

But there are some interesting aspects to this deal that do work in the favor of the fans and could influence future sports broadcast deals:

  • Radio Overlay: Fans will be able to mute the audio of the TV broadcast team and bring in local radio audio instead, which will sync up with the broadcast. Many folks already do this for Charlotte FC games, muting the TV and opting for WFNZ and Jessica Charman and Will Palaszczuk - - but audio and video don't sync. (I've had times where my TV feed was at least a minute ahead of the radio. Game spoilers!) Being able to do this is a game changer, and I would love to see this for other sports. 
  • Season Ticket Holder Benefit: The AppleTV deal promises free access to the streaming service to season ticket holders, certainly a nice perk for the amount of money spent on your plan. DC United has already promised their season ticket holders two free years of the service, and I am sure other clubs will follow suit. 
  • Zero Blackouts: The Charlotte FC media market covers two states and many over-the-air stations. Not every station outside of Charlotte covers games, and fans who don't have it over the air in their locale often find themselves blacked out of ESPN+. Removing blackouts is another game changer for sports, and something fans in other sports desperately need. 
  • Games on Devices: It's not just the Apple suite of products where you'll be able to see games - the app will be available on smart TVs, Amazon Fire Stick, and Chromecast. Got an Android phone or tablet? You can watch games on Apple's website.  
  • Consistent Schedule: The deal moves all games to either Wednesdays or Saturdays, which should make planning your watching a lot easier. For Charlotte and other teams that share their stadium with other sports, scheduling games just got a fair bit easier.
  • State of the Art Technology and Graphics: If you've watched Friday Night Baseball on AppleTV, you can't deny Apple has invested in excellent broadcast technology. Pictures are crisp, graphics are clean, and there's no shortage of statistics at your fingertips (even if some of them aren't exactly accurate or relevant). I expect the same to carry over to the MLS deal. 

Sounds good, right? But there are still some open questions and issues around this deal: 

  • A Separate Apple TV/MLS App: This is the one that does not sit well with me. Unlike Friday Night Baseball where the games are automatically part of your AppleTV subscription, the full slate of MLS games will be part of a separate app with a separate charge. Apple promises a "broad" selection of games on AppleTV, but that definition of broad is . . . pretty broad. (And will most likely be influenced by the standings as the season goes on.) If the goal is to broaden exposure and grow the fan base, having a separate app doesn't work - - diehard fans will be the one most likely to drop the cash, not the casual fan. This sentiment could change once the actual pricing drops, especially if there are any discounts for existing AppleTV+ subscribers. 
  • Chapter Bars: What does the move to streaming mean for chapter bars and watch parties? It's easier for a bar to just find the game on their cable or DIRECTV than deal with a streaming service and a login.  
  • Season Ticket Holder Benefit: How many free accounts will a season ticket holder get? Does it depend on the number of tickets or is it just one account? If four tickets in a bundle nets four free accounts, there's going to be a fair bit of login sharing undercutting revenue. Great for consumers until Apple jacks up the price in year two to make up for lost revenue.  

As professional sports adapts to a viewing public that is cutting the cord from traditional cable at increasing rates, it will be interesting to see how much of a game changer this kind of deal is for MLS and sports broadcasting in the 21st century. 

 

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