Sep 5, 2023 - Economy

Messi drives big boost for Apple's MLS streaming service

U.S. signups to Apple's MLS Season Pass
Data: iTunes; Chart: Tory Lysik/Axios Visuals

Lionel Messi's debut for Inter Miami sparked the biggest single-day subscription increase ever for Apple TV's MLS streaming service, according to new data.

Why it matters: Live sports rights — especially when they involve a superstar athlete — can help lure subscribers to streaming services that have so far mostly invested in on-demand entertainment.

  • Apple, which holds exclusive rights to air MLS games in the U.S., is getting a big boost from Messi's decision to join an MLS team.

Details: Data from Antenna, a streaming measurement company, shows that Apple added 110,075 sign-ups for MLS Season Pass on July 21. That's up from the roughly 5,400 sign-ups it saw on average per day for the week prior.

  • The tech giant added another 65,000 sign-ups days later on July 25, when Messi played his second game with the team and scored two goals in the first 22 minutes.
  • The numbers were first reported by the Wall Street Journal.

Catch up quick: Apple inked a 10-year, $2.5 billion deal with MLS to offer the league's streaming service.

  • MLS Season Pass is separate from the tech giant's main streaming service, though Apple TV+ gets a small discount.

The big picture: Subscription streamers are exploring ways to add more live sports to their services, as more TV viewers ditch their expensive cable packages for cheaper streaming alternatives.

  • Warner Bros. Discovery plans to simulcast live MLB games on its cable networks and on its service Max in October, CNBC reported last month.
  • Netflix plans to debut its first live sporting event, a live celebrity golf tournament, this November.

What to watch: For now, most major entertainment streaming services, aside from Netflix, aren't profitable.

  • Investments in live sports could help boost subscriptions, but live programming rights are getting pricier as competition from Big Tech firms intensifies.
  • For entertainment companies looking to invest more in streaming sports while also making a profit, striking the right balance between airing games digitally versus traditional television will continue to be tricky.
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