Mar 9, 2022 - Economy & Business

Apple steps to the plate

apple logo with baseball stitches

Illustration: Gabriella Turrisi/Axios

Apple is getting into live sports via a deal with Major League Baseball that will make two weekly Friday night games exclusive to Apple TV+.

Why it matters: It's Apple's first foray into live sports and marks a continued shift of making games available to those without a paid subscription.

  • The tech giant has been rumored for several years to be making a sports play and had been in talks with multiple leagues and college conferences.
  • "The most important thing from our standpoint right now is reach," MLB's chief revenue officer Noah Garden tells Tim.
  • Garden declined to comment on the deal terms, but it had been previously reported that MLB was looking for as much as $150 million a year for its weeknight inventory.

Yes, but: The timing of the announcement couldn't be worse. The sport is mired in a nasty lockout that has already delayed the start of the season and threatens to cancel games. (Editor's note: Negotiations are ongoing this morning. Baseball fans report twinges of hope.)

Details: The multiyear deal starts this season (assuming there is a season).

  • Apple has full exclusivity on the games, so they will not air on teams' local regional sports networks. However, they will be in front of the paywall, at least initially.
  • The deal includes a live weeknight show, "MLB Big Inning," that will feature highlights and look-ins.
  • Additionally, those in the U.S. and Canada get access to a 24/7 livestream featuring game replays, news, analysis and classic games.

Between the lines: MLB has a history of being early Apple adopters.

  • When Apple first launched its app store in 2008, MLB was the first sports app. The league was also the first to allow its games to be streamed on the iPad.
  • "We've had an amazingly close relationship with Apple. You see Apple iPads in the dugout. This deal is one that comes from those years of working together," Garden said.
  • This is not the first time MLB has put games exclusively on digital: The league experimented with putting games on Facebook and YouTube in recent years.

The big picture: There's a growing consensus among the top sports leagues that they need to cater to fans who only use streaming.

  • The NFL's new rights deals, which began in 2023, will make more games available on Peacock, Paramount+, ESPN+ and Amazon Prime Video, along with traditional TV networks.
  • Amazon is paying about $1 billion a year over an 11-year span to carry "Thursday Night Football" exclusively (except in participating teams' home markets) starting this fall.
  • "That's something that everybody's struggling with in our space: How do you start to reach the fans that are falling off the bundle?" Garden said.

What's next: This could just be the start for Apple. Along with Amazon and Disney, the tech giant is vying to acquire the NFL's Sunday Ticket package, which becomes available next year.

  • The Apple deal does not mean MLB is done selling weeknight games. "We have more inventory available. I think we're always in the market looking for opportunities that present themselves," Garden said.
  • NBCUniversal and Peacock have been reported to be in talks for weeknight games.

Tim Baysinger co-authors the Axios Pro Media deals newsletter. Sign up now.

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