Continuing the shift of sports from linear to digital, Apple has struck a massive, decade-long global deal to stream every Major League Soccer match. Starting next year, Apple will offer its Apple TV+ subscribers “a broad selection” of live matches each week at no additional cost while simultaneously launching a separate subscription-based service that will provide livestreams and replays of every game. The news comes just three months after Apple signed a pact with Major League Baseball for the rights to a handful of weekly games on Apple TV+ and less than three months before Amazon’s Prime Video becomes the new home of Thursday Night Football.
What’s unique about the MLS-Apple agreement, according to the two companies, is that MLS die-hards will now be able to watch the league’s full slate of games without needing to subscribe to another cable or satellite service (as has been the case with the NFL’s Sunday Ticket) or worrying about local blackouts. Consumers won’t even need an Apple device, since the new MLS streaming service — like the current Apple TV app and Apple TV+ — will be available across a variety of platforms, including Roku, Google TV, and Amazon’s Fire TV. “For the first time in the history of sports, fans will be able to access everything from a major professional sports league in one place,” said Eddy Cue, Apple’s senior vice president of services. “No fragmentation, no frustration — just the flexibility to sign up for one convenient service.”
Apple will even make some games available for free on the basic Apple TV app, no doubt as a means of enticing audiences to upgrade to the fuller complement of games on Apple TV+ or the as-yet untitled MLS super-service. What’s more, MLS is still planning to sell a smaller package of games to a linear provider such as ESPN or Fox, which would simulcast what Apple streams, according to Sports Business Journal. Both moves are no doubt meant to answer potential critics who will argue that MLS is somehow making it harder for audiences to see its games. In fact, the opposite is true: Fans currently need to pay for a cable or cablelike streaming service such as YouTube TV in order to access the major games telecast by ESPN, Fox Sports, and Univision (though obviously anyone with an antenna can watch Fox Broadcasting and Univision games for free, along with some local matches). It’s almost impossible to get a cable package with ESPN for less than $30 per month, but Apple TV+ will now likely offer a weekly assortment of games similar to the current TV package for just $5 per month (the cost of an Apple TV+ subscription). Apple and MLS have not yet announced a pricing structure for the MLS superservice. However, if you’re a season ticket holder to any MLS franchise, the price of the specialty service will be attractive: free.