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In its most ambitious push into live sports yet, technology giant Apple on Wednesday officially launched its Major League Soccer subscription service, called MLS Season Pass.
The new service will be available in 100 countries at launch, and will be the exclusive home for MLS games through 2033, thanks to a 10-year deal valued at about $250 million per year.
While Apple has explored the sports space before (most notably with its Friday night Major League Baseball games last season), the MLS deal is on a different level, with exclusive global rights to hundreds of matches.
With the NBA said to be seeking digital partner for its upcoming rights talks, and with the NFL keeping a close eye on the space as it evolves, the MLS service is being viewed as a bellwether on its ambitions in the sector.
For MLS, the deal also gives it prime real estate and promotional capabilities from one of the most powerful companies in the world.
“For Apple to come in and literally open up the book and say, ‘alright, how do we make the consumer experience better?’ Right away, they looked at the schedule and said, ‘okay, let’s fix that,'” former New England Revolution star Taylor Twellman, who will be a match analyst for MLS Season Pass, tells The Hollywood Reporter.
With all the games in one place, Apple and MLS shifted the schedule to have every game stream on Saturday nights (and some Wednesday nights) throughout the season to drive consistency.
“It’s hard to quantify it because the league has never had it. We’ve never had this in the United States in 27 years where the league now literally can be treated the same way that all the other leagues in the world are treated,” Twellman added. “I think when you put it all together, Rome wasn’t built a day, but I do believe as this year evolves, you’re going to start seeing some of that growth, and I think people are going to be really excited, and I think new fans are going to come because the league’s finally being treated differently.”
And that scale will be represented in Apple’s user experience, both in the TV app and in other apps like Apple News, Apple Music, and even Apple Maps. The company is pursuing a “seamless” experience for its soccer product, a person familiar with the plans says.
In the Apple TV app, MLS games and content will be front and center when they are live, with a simple one click to subscribe option for the premium service. In Apple News, a sports dashboard will let users follow their favorite teams, including MLS teams. A single click in the news app can take users straight to a live game. Even Apple Maps will be adding detail to MLS stadiums across the country, making them more noticeable within the larger map, and integrating more information about the teams.
Apple will offer 6 free games per week to Apple TV+ users, with every single game (including the playoffs) included in the premium service, which will live within the Apple TV app and be priced at $14.99 per month or $99.99 per year ($12.99 and $79.99 for existing Apple TV+ subscribers).
In addition, the entire slate of opening weekend games will be available for free. Games will also air locally on Fox TV stations, but Apple will have every game with no blackout restrictions.
The service will be closely watched by those in the sports space, both on the technical side (can Apple deliver the many simultaneous high-definition streams and a quality UX?) and on the production side (can the studio and game broadcasters, who will be on site this season, deliver a product of the same quality of other national leagues?).
And if it works, don’t be surprised if Apple, and other leagues, pursue similar projects in the future.
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