In 2023, it’s going to be a brave new world for Major League Soccer match broadcasts.
Major League Soccer and Apple announced today a 10-year deal broadcast deal. Starting in 2023, a new MLS streaming service available exclusively through the Apple TV app will be the home for every live MLS match. The streaming service will also show Leagues Cup matches and select MLS Next Pro and MLS Next matches.
In an important update for out-of-market fans, none of the matches on Apple TV will be subject to local blackout restrictions.
The deal is reportedly worth $250 million per year, representing a very significant increase in the amount of revenue MLS is receiving for its current media rights deal.
MLS is still in negotiations with linear broadcast providers (such as current league partners ESPN and FOX), and so a number of MLS games will still be on various national TV channels moving forward (as well as on the streaming platform).
In addition, there will be a selection of games available on the Apple TV+ streaming service (separate from the league-specific streaming service). Some matches will also be made available on the Apple TV platform for free.
Fans wanting to watch games will not need to have the Apple TV+ subscription in order to watch matches. MLS will be rolling out its own separate app and subscription within the Apple TV app itself, which is free to download.
In a significant development, this new deal will mean the end of local TV broadcasts. With all matches heading to the new streaming platform on Apple TV, MLS games will no longer be available on local cable or OTA options. The league will be producing all matches themselves, which means that fans will no longer be able to watch matches on local affiliates, such as Fox 12+ and ROOT Sports in Portland.
As for the on-air broadcasters, the league announced that there will be an option to select audio from local radio broadcasts for games on Apple TV. So despite the end of local TV deals, fans in local markets will still have an option to listen to local voices.
It is unclear how the different audio streaming options will impact Closed Captioning on match broadcasts and how available captioning will be for all audio options.
In addition to match content, the streaming service will provide a weekly whip-around show showcasing highlights from matches across the league. In order to facilitate this, starting in the 2023 season all matches will be played in just two match windows during the week: Wednesday nights for midweek matches, and Saturday nights for weekend games. There will also be additional MLS-focused content coming to Apple TV, including pre-game and post-game coverage along with other stories from around the league.
Complete details for the new streaming service—such as price point, broadcast details, and full programming specifics—will be released by the league at a later date. We do know that season ticket holders for MLS teams will receive access to the streaming service when it is released, at no additional charge.
New details will be available in the coming months, but what we can say for sure is that the new deal between MLS and Apple represents a shift in how MLS as a league will viewed and consumed by fans for the next decade—or possibly even more.
You can read the full press release from the league on the deal here.