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Apple builds sports empire with MLB, MLS deals

Jun 15, 2022
Illustration of Apple’s logo painted on turf.

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

Apple is quickly becoming a player for major sports rights after deals with Major League Baseball and Major League Soccer, as well as a potential NFL deal.

Why it matters: Competition for sports rights has never been greater, and now legacy media companies have to contend with digital natives like Apple and Amazon.

Driving the news: Apple stunned everyone Tuesday when it announced that it signed a 10-year rights deal with Major League Soccer that begins in 2023.

  • The deal will see Apple create a new streaming service for MLS games that will be exclusively housed within Apple TV. It will feature every single game, meaning there are no local blackout rules.
  • Certain games may also become available on linear TV, and a source tells Axios that ESPN, MLS' current rights holder, is still in talks for some of those games.
  • While Apple declined to comment on the deal terms, it is reportedly for $250 million a year (up from the current $90 million per year it got from its expiring deal). When you factor in subscription revenue, the agreement is worth more than $2.5 billion for the soccer league.

Be smart: This arguably gives Apple greater control over a sport it carries compared to every other rights holder.

  • "No fragmentation, no frustration — just the flexibility to sign up for one convenient service that gives you everything MLS, anywhere and anytime you want to watch," Eddy Cue, Apple's SVP of services, said in a statement.

The big picture: Apple and Amazon are fighting over sports supremacy in the streaming world.

  • The two are seen as the biggest contenders for the NFL's Sunday Ticket package as well as a stake in the league's media business.
  • Amazon is already in business with the NFL. It's paying $1 billion a year to carry "Thursday Night Football" starting in the fall.
  • Disney, Paramount and Warner Bros. Discovery are looking to give their in-house services ESPN+, Hulu, Paramount+ and HBO Max a sports boost as well.

What's next: A slew of major rights will come up for renewal over the next few years, including the Big Ten and Pac-12 conferences from the NCAA, as well as the NBA.

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