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Major League Soccer's Apple bet takes the stage

Tim Baysinger
Feb 23, 2023

Inside MLS's East Harlem studio. Photo: Tim Baysinger

Major League Soccer's media gamble with Apple is about to go primetime.

Why it matters: The professional soccer league's deal with Apple is the first of its kind, and its success hinges on MLS's ability to create a sports entertainment package that fans will pay for.

Details: "We're going to measure success by, ultimately in time, how many people subscribe to MLS Season Pass," said MLS commissioner Don Garber, speaking to a room full of reporters Wednesday at the organization's new East Harlem studio.

  • The 10-year, $2.5 billion deal is a big leap for MLS and a vote of confidence in Apple, which remains a neophyte when it comes to airing live sports.
  • Apple will begin streaming the matches on Saturday.

Zoom in: MLS is betting that Apple's global reach can give it the outsized media presence it has longed for. Apple will stream every match, and MLS will produce each segment (pre-game, game time and post-game) on its own.

  • It's the first time a pro sports league has gone all-in like this with a tech/streaming business. Garber is hoping that taking the risk offers a big return.
  • "I love this expression, 'no pressure, no diamonds.' If you don't put yourself to task, then you're never going to be able to achieve the impossible," he said.

Of note: MLS is partnering with a tech platform new to sports streaming when compared to traditional media companies. That means MLS has an unprecedented level of control over its product.

  • "There is no league domestically that is producing all of their games. Gary Stevenson and his group — they're producing all the games and hiring all the talent," he said, referring to his deputy commissioner.
  • Every team will have its own channel in the season pass app that will be loaded with self-produced content.

What we're watching: If the all-in streaming partner/sports league model replaces the age-old RSN model, which is already wobbling.

  • The potential bankruptcy for Diamond Sports — which owns rights to 42 teams across the NBA, MLB and NHL — could fast-track the kind of move MLS is doing with Apple.
  • Both the NBA and MLB have said they have plans to produce and distribute games themselves if Diamond’s Bally Sports RSNs are unable.
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