Tech giant Apple has announced a launch date for its dedicated Major League Soccer (MLS) streaming service, MLS Season Pass, after securing a 10-year global media rights deal for rights to stream every match from the North American league starting next year.
Earlier this year (June 2022), MLS announced its landmark $2.5-billion ($250-million-per-year) deal with Apple that would see the tech giant launch a streaming service available exclusively through the Apple TV app globally, without any local domestic broadcast restrictions.
The company has now revealed the MLS Season Pass will debut on February 1, 2023, ahead of the start of the MLS regular season on February 25. The price has been set at $99 per season or $15 per month, with Apple TV+ subscribers getting a discounted rate of $79 per season or $13 per month.
Users can stream through the Apple TV app that is available on Apple products including iPhones, iPads, smart TVs, and streaming players. Android users will have to use the company’s tv.apple.com website as it has not released an Apple TV Plus app for those devices.
For the opening weekend of the 2023 season, all matches will be made available to watch for free on the Apple TV app.
On top of more than 900 live MLS matches, the platform will air games from the Leagues Cup, the annual competition contested by clubs in MLS and Mexico’s Liga MX, and select matches from the MLS Pro affiliate league and MLS Next youth league.
A subscription to MLS Season Pass will also be included for full-season ticket holders from any MLS club.
The rate is an increase on the previous rightsholder ESPN, which charged $9.99 per month for a subscription to the games on its streaming service ESPN+. However, there will be more content available for users of Apple’s streaming service, including every game and extensive shoulder programming including a live match show.
The MLS is planning to broadcast some games on linear television in the US and Canada, with broadcasting giant ESPN and Spanish-language channel Univision reportedly heavy favorites to win the rights.
Eddy Cue, Apple’s senior vice president of services, said: “There isn’t a more perfect time to introduce MLS Season Pass, coming off the heels of the most dramatic MLS Cup in history and with MLS as the fast-growing soccer league the world.
“We’re counting down the days to February 2023 when fans everywhere can enjoy MLS Season Pass on billions of devices – all with no blackouts.”
The MLS 2022 championship game earlier this month (November 5) generated its highest domestic television viewership since 1997 after securing a combined 2.155 million viewers for national network Fox and Univision. The match saw Los Angles (LAFC) crowned champions of the league after dramatically defeating Philadelphia Union on penalties at Banc of California Stadium in Los Angeles.
The viewership figure made the match the second most-watched club soccer match in the US this year after European club soccer’s UEFA Champions League final between Real Madrid and Liverpool in May, which generated 2.67 million viewers for national network CBS.
GlobalData Sport analyst Jake Kemp said of the launch: “The US sports media landscape has long been dominated by the big national broadcasters, and Apple’s arrival on the sports scene represents a big shift in what the future of how live sports are consumed in the States.
“Apple’s significant investment into the MLS will ultimately depend on the success of the season passes it is offering fans. With these passes being available in 100 countries around the world, Apple TV is hoping that the league can continue to grow in popularity and has come on board at a significant time for the premier US-based soccer league.
“They will be looking to piggyback on the back of the MLS Cup success earlier in November, which saw LAFC claim one of the most dramatic titles in the league’s history, as well as the upcoming FIFA World Cup in Qatar, where the US national team are set to feature.
“Soccer and the MLS still lag behind the four biggest sports leagues in the United States, but the next four years could be an exciting time for its development, as the US prepares to serve as co-hosts of the 2026 FIFA World Cup.”
As part of its wide-ranging deal, Apple has also picked up the rights to place its logo on the sleeves of all 29 MLS teams.
The league showcased the patch yesterday (November 16) during expansion team St. Louis City SC’s uniform unveiling.
Each club will feature the Apple TV patch in a different color. The clubs will share their new jerseys in the weeks leading up to the start of the 2023 regular season.
Commenting on the new sleeve sponsorship, Kemp added: “The media rights will remain the biggest emphasis for Apple, but sleeve sponsorship inventory offers the brand just that bit more in terms of exposure from the worlds media in terms of images used for each team and match around the globe.
“The media rights will remain the biggest emphasis for Apple, but sleeve sponsorship inventory offers the brand just that bit more in terms of exposure from the world's media in terms of images used for each team and match around the globe.”
The 2023 MLS regular season begins on February 25 and will pause from July 21 to August 19 for the month-long Leagues Cup.