Apple scores deal for Major League Soccer streaming rights worth $2.5bn

Apple and Major League Soccer have agreed to a broadcasting rights package worth $2.5bn over 10 years, according to people familiar with the matter, a big investment in live sports by the tech group that will put the North American football league’s matches on its streaming service.

Beginning next year, all live fixtures will air on a dedicated MLS streaming service available on the Apple TV app. The price of the subscription for consumers was not immediately available.

MLS commissioner Don Garber declined to comment on the dollar value of the agreement. He said it was structured as a “minimum guarantee” with Apple to form a streaming service, with the potential for additional revenue sharing and sale of some traditional television rights.

Moving the league’s live broadcasts to streaming will allow MLS to expand its appeal overseas as opposed to “being the North American version of the global game”, Garber said.

The deal between Apple and MLS is the second live sports rights deal for the tech group and its first comprehensive rights package with a league. Earlier this year, it struck an agreement with Major League Baseball to broadcast Friday night games, joining Silicon Valley peers like Amazon in taking on traditional broadcasters for the rights to live sports.

“Sports clearly represents the next battleground for ownership of the living room among the big tech companies”, said Paolo Pescatore, tech and media analyst for PP Foresight. “This is a statement of intent by Apple. While it’s late to the party, it must now be considered a serious player for sports rights in key markets for its products.”

Eddy Cue, Apple’s senior vice-president of services, said centralising all MLS matches on its platform would eliminate friction for fans who typically have to toggle between different networks or platforms to watch. Each of the big North American professional leagues, including MLS, split their broadcast rights among a variety of networks, a process that help owners extract the highest price but produces confusion for fans and occasionally results in viewing blackouts.

“No fragmentation, no frustration — just the flexibility to sign up for one convenient service that gives you everything MLS,” he said.

The Apple and MLS deal follows another blockbuster media rights package for the Indian Premier League, which this week parcelled out broadcast and streaming privileges to Disney and Viacom18, respectively, for nearly $6bn.

The IPL and MLS media deals amount to a mixed verdict for incumbent Disney, which holds streaming rights for both leagues under their current terms.

Figures released by ESPN in 2021 showed viewership for MLS matches on ABC and ESPN rose 39 per cent from 2019, its last pre-pandemic season, to an average of 384,000 viewers.

A person familiar with the matter described the negotiations for the next round of MLS rights as “a competitive process” but that ESPN, Disney’s sports platform, feels comfortable with its other football offerings, including Germany’s Bundesliga, Spain’s La Liga and England’s FA Cup.

A spokesman for ESPN said “we continue to have a great relationship with MLS and are proud of the role we’ve played in helping grow the league and the sport in the US”.

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