5 fundamental questions MLS must answer before Apple TV launch

Questions MLS will need to answer before Apple TV

It’s been more than 90 days since MLS inked a deal with Apple to exclusively broadcast every game from 2023 to 2033. Since then, the league hasn’t shared any further details about their transfer plans for next season. And with the 2023 season fast approaching, time is running out.

Taking the US domestic league, which was primarily a TV product, and shifting it to a streaming-first football league is a seismic shift. It will take a lot of time and consumer information to help MLS plant the seeds for a successful product on Apple TV.

Questions MLS must answer ahead of Apple TV debut

However, questions remain. So here are the 5 basic questions MLS must answer before launching Apple TV:

1) TV offers

While television is only a small part of Major League Soccer’s future, none of the deals for 2023 and beyond have been signed at press time. Over 12 months ago, three broadcasters, FOX Sports, ESPN and Univision were given an exclusive window to renew their MLS TV rights deals. All three broadcasters have been lukewarm about the renewals and delayed their decision, so MLS has brought forward its exclusive global streaming deal with Apple.

That way, the trio of FOX, ESPN and Univision no longer have any exclusivity on MLS games they might be interested in broadcasting. Not only that, but they might also feel that any MLS games they show on linear TV will only indirectly help sell subscriptions to Apple’s MLS app.

As MLS goes to bed with Apple for an exclusive streaming deal, there is friction between MLS and the incumbents. Each of the three channels has its own streaming services (ESPN+, ViX+ and, to a lesser extent, Tubi) that aim to show exclusive games. Major League Soccer’s deal with Apple nullifies that possibility.

So why are the TV deals our number one question for MLS? Some fans may want to wait until they know what the TV landscape will be before subscribing to Apple TV. Because being able to watch some of the big games on TV might be enough for some fans. Conversely, if the choice of TVs is very small, this will encourage fans to sign up for Apple TV.

To be honest, it’s difficult to see an advantage for FOX, ESPN or Univision when it comes to broadcasting MLS games. Perhaps the only benefit would be if Major League Soccer were willing to pay the trio of broadcasters for airtime.

2) prices

As we wrote back in June, the success of Apple’s landmark MLS deal hinges on pricing. Without knowing how Apple will rate the MLS app at Apple, it’s hard to get too excited about the service.

The success of Apple’s landmark MLS deal hinges on pricing

Consequently, the pricing of the MLS app on Apple TV will either make or break the service.

3) commenters

No official announcement has been made as to who the MLS announcers are for the 2023 season. It is important for many football fans to know who the new voices are for broadcasts of their favorite teams. With local broadcasts from regional sports networks being phased out for Major League Soccer, it means we’re likely to hear a new breed of voices calling games. It won’t be what we’re used to. Many of them are expected to cancel games from a monitor likely sourced from a South Florida studio. Meanwhile, MLS plans to send a minimal number of crews onto the streets to call select games from stadiums.

The bond football fans form with announcers is key to the league’s growth. It’s important to have qualified commentators and co-commentators calling games. Likewise, it’s important that MLS raises the bar on its reporting by hiring the best talent available.

Whether MLS can make the right hiring decisions for commentators is questionable. In the past, broadcasters made hiring decisions. Now it’s Major League Soccer’s turn. Will MLS then hire the best talent available? Or will the league hire talent that matches what the league asks of them instead of being open and honest about what they see?

4) Games available for free

Many MLS games are expected to be available for free in the first few months of the 2023 season. This is great news for fans looking to experience the MLS app on Apple TV. Games are also expected to be available to Apple TV+ subscribers as well.

What games and how many games will be available for free are certainly important things to know ahead of the 2023 season.

5) Availability on Android devices

If you are an Apple iPhone user, you will have very few user experience issues while watching MLS games. However, the same cannot be said for Android users. Nationwide, Android phones make up 46% of US phones. Equally important, 53% of Hispanics in the US use an Android, so next year MLS will be at a disadvantage when it comes to getting people to sign up for the MLS app on Apple TV.

Why is that? There is no Apple TV app for Android users. Instead, the only way Android users can watch a game is currently through the browser (or by purchasing an Apple TV).

The sooner Android users know if and when the MLS app will be available via Android devices, the better.

So that we understand each other. We’re optimistic about the MLS deal with Apple. It’s a big win for cable cutters who want to watch every game via streaming without having to mess with the TV. At the same time, we hope that Major League Soccer will start communicating with the media soon so that we can update you ahead of the 2023 season.

Image Credits: IMAGO / Icon Sportswire