MLS, Apple Agree to 10-Year Broadcast Contract Beginning in 2023

Joseph Zucker@@JosephZuckerFeatured Columnist IVJune 14, 2022

SAN JOSE, CA - OCTOBER 23: San Jose Earthquakes forward Jeremy Ebobisse (11) controls the ball during the MLS pro soccer game between the Vancouver Whitecaps and the San Jose Earthquakes on October 23, 2021 at PayPal Park in San Jose, CA. (Photo by Bob Kupbens/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
Bob Kupbens/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Major League Soccer announced Tuesday it has signed a 10-year broadcasting deal with Apple to stream every MLS and Leagues Cup match through Apple TV beginning in 2023.

The Athletic's Sam Stejskal reported the deal is worth $2.5 billion. Stejskal added that Apple TV may not be the exclusive home of MLS since "ESPN and Univision are both expected to reach agreements to televise MLS matches in the near future."

Whereas most leagues have standalone streaming services such as League Pass for the NBA and MLB.TV for MLB, MLS ditched its MLS Live service in 2018 and moved its games to ESPN+ as part of its deal with the network.

In that respect, the agreement with Apple doesn't represent a drastic change.

Financially, this deal is in a different stratosphere.

In 2014, MLS inked contracts with ESPN, Univision and Fox that combined to pay out $90 million annually. That figure was a significant increase from the $18 million it previously collected each year, and the league is once again injecting a big boost into its bottom line.

Shifting from ESPN carries risk given the network's reach and how synonymous it is with live sports.

Rob Williams @RobTheHockeyGuy

Seems incredibly risky for MLS to do this. <br><br>How many casual fans will be signing up for the extra fee just to watch MLS? How much airtime do MLS highlights get on SportsCentre now? <br><br>Reminds me of when the NHL went away from ESPN. <a href="https://t.co/CPAGgMVkKy">https://t.co/CPAGgMVkKy</a>

Aligning with a streaming service that doesn't offer a large volume of sports content can have advantages, though.

Per Stejskal, Apple will build specific branding around some matches that mirrors its Friday Night Baseball coverage for MLB. In addition, broadcasts on the Apple TV app "will also include pregame, halftime and postgame shows, as well as a significant amount of non-gameday programming."

This is likely a litmus test for whether MLS can meaningfully bridge the gap between MLS and the traditional big four sports leagues (the NFL, NBA, NHL and MLB) in the U.S. If it succeeds in that aim, then it might also challenge some of the more established soccer leagues in Europe.