Jun 8, 2023 - Economy

Apple making huge push to fuel U.S. soccer bet

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

Major League Soccer has been around for a quarter century, but the red-hot media race for U.S. professional sports rights is fueling its new future, today.

Why it matters: Apple is going all-in, deploying money and a content strategy in an innovative bet that the world’s most popular game can finally make a dent domestically.

Zoom in: Apple’s push goes far beyond the 10-year rights deal it signed last year to stream MLS games in a subscription package on Apple TV+, for which will pay the league no less than $2.5 billion.

  • The tech giant is also right in the middle of Wednesday's shocking news that Lionel Messi — one of the world’s most popular players — intends to leave Europe to play for MLS club Inter Miami.

Between the lines: Apple will reportedly pay Messi a cut of revenue from new subscriptions to its MLS Season Pass — compensation on top of his team salary and another profit-share arrangement from league partner Adidas.

Meanwhile, Apple's content strategy for the league doesn't stop with its game streaming, as it also offers short features on players and teams, game previews and weekly analysis.

  • And on Tuesday it announced a new four-part Apple TV+ documentary series on Messi, produced by SMUGGLER Entertainment.

Be smart: The company will look to capture the same ratings magic that a similar docu-series’ from Netflix has done for F1, another global sport with a niche U.S. following.

  • "Formula 1: Drive to Survive," now in its fifth season, has been credited with boosting live F1 race viewership on ABC and ESPN networks, according to The Athletic.

The impact: Rumors of Messi's move to Miami already sent MLS ticket prices soaring in the secondary market.

The bottom line: Apple doesn’t share specific subscription numbers, but Eddy Cue, its senior vice president of services, told media last week that MLS Season Pass was already “doing much better than we had forecasted” in its first year, before possibly hinting at what was to come.

  • “I’m very proud and happy with what we’ve accomplished so far, but I am sure that the best is yet to come.”
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