Major League Soccer (MLS) is booting the traditional pay-TV bundle into the stands. Starting in 2023, every MLS club’s match will be available live–worldwide and without regional blackouts–exclusively through the the Apple TV app.
Apple and the league announced this 10-year agreement(Opens in a new window) on Tuesday, which will take the form of a new MLS streaming service(Opens in a new window) only available through Apple. Neither party revealed the subscription rate for access to the service, but both said that “a limited number of matches” will be available to stream at no charge, while season ticket holders will gain full access to the service for free.
It’s not known how much Apple is paying for these rights, but the Sports Business Journal’s Alex Silverman and John Ourand, citing MLS executives, reported that(Opens in a new window) “Apple is paying a minimum guarantee that sources say is worth $250M per year.”
This move represents a complete dumping of the TV channel-bundle business model and ends a few years of uncertainty for MLS, which hasn’t had the leverage of pro baseball or football at securing carriage for its matches.
In 2019, Washington’s D.C. United tried cutting its own cord by having the streaming platform FloSports carry its matches, but technical glitches(Opens in a new window) and such feature shortfalls as the absence of a Spanish-language channel annoyed supporters and led the club to scratch that deal at the end of the first season. This new MLS service should avoid that problem as it will include English and Spanish coverage, while matches involving Canadian teams will add a French feed.
The multiple mentions by Apple and MLS of the new service’s lack of any regional blackouts underscored the contrast with Major League Baseball’s ventures into streaming, which have attempted to preserve existing regional sports network deals by preventing local fans from watching their home team’s games(Opens in a new window) on the nationwide MLB.tv service.
Baseball “RSNs,” meanwhile, have almost uniformly balked at selling streaming subscriptions direct to fans. However, New England Sports Network, which carries Red Sox games, launched a $29.99/month standalone service two weeks ago.
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While expensive and lacking any season ticket-holder discount, that still beats the options available to cord-cutting fans of other teams. They have to wait for the occasional game carried by a streaming service like Peacock or Apple TV+, or attempt to evade MLB.tv blackouts with a VPN service that spoofs their location.
Apple’s MLS deal, meanwhile, already promises some blessed simplicity even if the rate remains a mystery. As an email sent by D.C. United to fans Tuesday summed up: “Every club, every match, everywhere.”