November 16, 2022 | MLS Season Pass on Apple TV
Its not as easy as local, but its the best path forward
After a year of shopping for the best deal, MLS signed a new broadcast deal with Apple in 2022, promising zero blackouts and consistent coverage. Today, MLS and Apple announced the branding and pricing for the 2023 season, but a lot more has been reported and I’m seeing a lot of bad info out there, so here’s my best breakdown.
Top 5 Things to Know
Every MLS and League Cup match will be broadcast on the new MLS Season Pass only available on Apple TV
MLS Season Pass is completely separate from Apple’s TV+ subscription, home of their original content like Ted Lasso and The Wheel of Time, though if you are an Apple TV+ subscriber you get a discount on MLS Season Pass
MLS Season Pass will cost $99/year or $14.99/month starting February 1; for Apple TV+ subscribers it’s $79/year or $12.00/month
Every MLS club season ticket holder account gets access to MLS Season Pass as part of their season ticket package - one per ticket account, not per seat
MLS Season Pass will be inside the Apple TV app on all of your smart TVs, streaming devices, game consoles, iOS devices, or in your browser at https://tv.apple.com
First off, there are no more local TV broadcasts. So if you’re local to Charlotte and enjoyed having free access to matches via WSOC or the team’s website, that’s over now - you’ll have to at least download the Apple TV app on a device to watch Major League Soccer games. Why do I say “at least”?
Because, according to today’s press release, some matches will be available in front of the Season Pass paywall on Apple TV. There’s no telling yet if there will be a “Free Match of the Week”, etc. but at least some MLS games will be available for free.
The 2023 season kicks off on February 25. All matches on opening weekend will be available to watch on MLS Season Pass for free.
Now that there’s no need for scheduling around a linear TV broadcast partner, games will have a much more consistent kickoff time. Almost all games will be on Saturday or Wednesday nights at 7:30pm local, all with both English and Spanish broadcast crews. Games with a Canadian club will also be broadcast in French. Some matches might fall outside this regular rhythm, but it seems we can start making that routine the norm.
This broadcast deal also includes the new Leagues Cup between MLS and Liga MX teams.
Opinion | The Negatives
Good or bad, this broadcast deal for the next ten years will change Major League Soccer. I’m rooting for it because the health and growth of the league depends on it. There are few negatives I do want to mention that I’m keeping my eye out on since we’re only three months and change away from kickoff.
No more local broadcast teams: Eric Krakauer and Lloyd Sam did a great job for the club in 2022, but they’re officially out of a job unless hired by MLS + Apple to do league-wide coverage that may include Charlotte games. We don’t know who the talent is for 2023 yet at all, and that makes a big impact on the viewing experience.
Production of matches: The product on the field in MLS is often maligned by people looking to be debby-downers, but the best way to make sure the league is taken seriously is to make it look as good as possible. That means broadcasting in at least 1080p (if not 4k), good audio mixing between the announcing crew and in-stadium noise, a well designed score bug, etc. If the broadcast feels cheap, the product as a whole will feel cheap too.
Bad branding/confusion: Because people don’t know the different between Apple TV (the platform) and Apple TV+ (the streaming subscription service on the platform), people are confused as hell. Do I need to have an Apple TV+ subscription to be able to watch games? Wait, I have to pay extra to watch MLS even though I already pay for Apple TV+?
Some fans will say ESPN+ using local broadcasts was better. I’ll gently disagree, but only time can tell. ESPN+ has become a daily driver for many sports fans and MLS Season Pass is Apple’s first foray into sports broadcasting with a league. The best thing both can do is communicate clearly what is going on so fans aren’t still scrambling come Matchday 1.
Why all of this matters
Major League Soccer has always been an overlooked broadcast asset. There were years when the league/teams paid broadcasters to get games on the air. We’re well past that era, but the league definitely needed to grow its revenue from broadcast rights as we move toward the 2028 World Cup hosted here in North America. Soccer has never been more popular in the US with most eyeballs pointed toward the English Premier League on NBC/Peacock.
At the same time, MLS’ stock is growing on a global scale too. No longer only seen as a retirement league for over-the-hill European stars, MLS seems to be just on the outside of what most consider to be the Top 5 global soccer leagues - and it wants to continue to grow.
I routinely hear English soccer fans spout their ire at the fact that its easier for Americans to watch British soccer on TV than it is for them. As the league continues to grow and earn an audience, the deal with Apple makes sure that the inverse can not be said. There are no global blackouts - a Minnesota fan in Belgium can watch a game just as easily as a displaced Bostonian living in southern California.
Yes - it now costs money to watch your local team that you weren’t paying for before (especially for those of us fortunately enough to live close enough for a free broadcast). I don’t mind that cost, as long as the funds are further invested in the right places and not used to line the pockets of billionaire owners.
I guess we’ll find out.