You may or may not have heard, but Ted Lasso is no longer the only soccer star on Apple TV+.
Apple TV+ announced a deal with Major League Soccer (MLS) for exclusive rights to broadcast all its games starting next year. For both MLS and Apple, this is a big deal. Apple’s TV subscription service is good, but it needs more content to become a must-subscribe platform. I personally love it, but I get it free because I bought a phone this past year.
When push comes to shove, will I pay for the service? That remains to be seen. I love what I see on there, but it's not enough to simply pay in perpetuity. Would MLS soccer put me over the hump?
Therein lies the most interesting question for me. My kids love soccer, and I have adopted the Austin FC since our move to Austin in 2021, so I might be inclined to pay for Apple TV+. However, the MLS package is actually a subscription plan inside of a subscription service.
You read that right. To get the full MLS package, you are paying a fee inside of a fee. You are essentially subscribing to two paid services all baked into one.
As far as I can recall, this might be a first. The streaming wars are in full swing, with many families subscribing to many different platforms, but not very often do you get asked to subscribe to a platform, and then get upcharged to another subscription inside of the first one for more content!
Maybe I am being naïve. Maybe this is just like subscribing to an entry-level package and then considering the upgraded package. Maybe this is no different from subscribing to Direct TV, and then up-leveling to the NFL package, but somehow it feels different to me. It feels different because the UI is clearly the same, but the access is different. It is Apple adopting an SaaS freemium/premium model, and it just feels different. You gotta give it to Apple to find a way to make things easy yet complicated all at the same time.
Apple has stated that some MLS games will be available through the base subscription, but if you want them all, you have to upgrade. This model is used in software all the time to encourage trial and upgrade. Apple knows this extremely well via the App Store and its mobile business, and maybe its strategists look at this the same way. Some customers will see the partial access as enough of an incentive to keep paying, while others will get a taste, get excited, and want the full Monty.
MLS is a growing sport and has certainly achieved new levels of popularity in the U.S., but it is still not quite a driver of sports packages in the same way as the NBA, NFL, MLB or NHL are. These leagues are the big four more established leagues and each of them can become the cornerstone of a subscription service all by themselves. MLS has a rabid fanbase, but not one that will put Apple in the driver’s seat within a year.
Maybe Apple sees the relationship as good for everyone? Maybe it’s viewed as mutually beneficial? Apple will give much-needed exposure to MLS on a global level, and in return the MLS will create new opportunities to entice subscribers to check out the platform.
Sports is one of the last remaining appointment-view draws in broadcast TV. Games are on often, and people like to watch them live rather than binge-watch them later. Sports commands a premium for advertisers these days, and streaming services are bidding against one another for the different schedules and more. Amazon is involved. Hulu is involved. Now Apple is involved.
All this begs the question of what is the remaining draw for standard linear cable anymore? Funnily enough, simplicity is the story for those legacy folks. A single place to gain access to your favorite programs is the single biggest advantage for legacy cable. Isn’t that ironic?
I guess we’ll have to wait and see what happens with Apple next year. Will MLS be the first pillar of live-streaming for Apple? I never bet against them, so my money says yes.