MLS Season Pass

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MLS Season Pass
DeveloperApple Inc.
Launch dateFebruary 1, 2023 (13 months ago) (2023-02-01)[1]
Platform(s)
Pricing model
  • US$14.99 per month
  • CA$19.99 per month
  • £14.99 per month
  • 14.99 per month
Websitewww.mlssoccer.com/season-pass/

MLS Season Pass is a soccer streaming service operated by Apple Inc. which includes live matches from Major League Soccer. The package was launched in the 2023 Major League Soccer season as part of a new 10-year media rights agreement between MLS and Apple, under which it holds the global over-the-top streaming rights to the league.

MLS Season Pass is a subscription-based service on Apple TV app, which carries live coverage of all MLS regular season and playoff matches, as well as coverage of the Leagues Cup, selected MLS Next and MLS Next Pro matches, studio programs, and other video content (including match replays and original programming). Under the new contracts, regionally-televised matches have been discontinued, hence all matches stream globally with no blackout restrictions.

A selection of matches each week will be made available to stream for free without a subscription. A non-exclusive linear television package of matches was sold to Fox Sports in the United States and Bell Media in Canada.

History[edit]

MLS had requested that its teams not negotiate regional television rights to their matches beyond the 2022 season, suggesting that the league was considering switching to a centralized model for its media rights (more akin to the National Football League and European club leagues such as the Premier League) after its present national television agreements with ESPN, Fox Sports, and Univision expire at the same time.[2][3]

On June 14, 2022, MLS announced a 10-year broadcasting deal with Apple Inc. taking effect in the 2023 season, under which it would hold the global over-the-top media rights to the league. It marked the second major foray by Apple into professional sports rights, after having launched Major League Baseball's Friday Night Baseball earlier that year.[4][5]

The name and United States pricing of the service was announced on November 16, 2022, with availability beginning February 1, 2023, for the start of the season on February 25, 2023.[6][7][8][9]

To maintain a presence on linear television, MLS reached three-year, non-exclusive rights agreements with Fox Sports (United States for Fox and Fox Deportes) and Bell Media (Canada for TSN and RDS) to carry packages of MLS matches on their networks. The contract ended the league's long-term associations with ESPN and Univision; ESPN had been one of Major League Soccer's main media partners since its inception. Univision will continue to televise select Leagues Cup matches, including exclusive linear coverage of the final.[10][11][12] ESPN and Univision reportedly declined to renew their contracts due to objections to aspects of the Apple contract, as both companies also operate competing streaming platforms (ESPN+—which previously held out-of-market streaming rights—and Vix, respectively), and they would no longer hold exclusive rights to the matches they televise.[13][11][14]

Distribution[edit]

MLS Season Pass is sold on a subscription basis via the Apple TV app, either monthly or per-season; the U.S. price was set at US$14.99 per month[15] or $99 per season. MLS Season Pass is separate from and does not require an Apple TV+ subscription, but discounts are available to Apple TV+ subscribers. Season ticketholders of MLS teams also receive MLS Season Pass for free.[6][7][16] A selection of matches throughout the 2023 season will stream free-of-charge; during the opening weekend of the 2023 season, all matches streamed for free, while at least six matches per-week were scheduled during the first weeks of the season afterward. Later weeks had as few as two free matches.[17]

As it did for Amazon Prime Video's Thursday Night Football in the NFL, DirecTV acquired rights to distribute MLS Season Pass for its commercial subscribers, ensuring the matches' availability to venues (such as bars and restaurants) not readily equipped to handle streaming-only broadcasts.[18] A one-year subscription to MLS Season Pass was offered by T-Mobile US to their subscribers in February 2023 through the T-Mobile Tuesdays app.[19] A similar offer was introduced in June 2023 by Optus Sport, a sports channel in Australia.[20]

Production[edit]

MLS Season Pass will carry all MLS regular season and playoff matches live and on-demand, and be the exclusive carrier of all matches not otherwise sub-licensed to a linear broadcaster. It will also carry all Leagues Cup matches, and selected MLS Next and MLS Next Pro matches.[4][5] As teams can no longer sell packages of matches for regional broadcasts, there are henceforth no blackouts of out-of-market matches.[5][16]

As of the 2023 season, all MLS telecasts will be produced in-house by the league as part of a joint venture between IMG and NEP Group. All MLS matches aired by MLS Season Pass are produced in 1080p high definition with 5.1 surround sound, and utilize "enhanced data elements".[21][22] Match commentary is available in English and Spanish, as well as French for matches involving Canadian teams (CF Montréal, Toronto FC, Vancouver Whitecaps). Local radio broadcasts are also available as an option.[8]

MLS Season Pass produces three studio shows; the pre-match show MLS Countdown, MLS 360 (which carries "whiparound" coverage of each Saturday matchday), and the highlights show MLS Wrap-Up.[22] All three are produced at Metropolis Studios, a 7,000-square-foot (650 m2) studio in Manhattan, New York City, with adjacent facilities for English and Spanish control rooms. The video feeds are transmitted to an NEP Group data center in Dallas for encoding and distributed from an Apple facility in Van Nuys, California.[23] The service also offers on-demand content such as classic matches, team-produced videos, and original series (such as The Ritual, a docuseries that will highlight the fan cultures of Major League Soccer's franchises).[5][8]

Announcers[edit]

MLS Season Pass uses an in-house staff of commentary teams, with specific commentators expected to be assigned to matches on a regional basis to reduce travel, and provide familiarity to viewers.[24][25][26][27]

Viewership[edit]

According to the Sports Business Journal, the service had surpassed one million subscribers in July 2023, including free subscriptions to T-Mobile customers and team season ticket members, critics attributed the spike to the high-profile signing of Lionel Messi by Inter Miami CF.[28][29] Data collected by analytics company Antenna found a major spike in subscriptions for Messi's debut match for Miami, with 110,000 new subscriptions in the United States alone.[30]

While Apple and MLS share subscription information to MLS Season Pass, they do not share actual viewership data; this has made companies hesitant to advertise on the service with this uncertainty.[31]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Apple and Major League Soccer announce MLS Season Pass launches February 1, 2023". Apple Newsroom. November 16, 2022. Retrieved November 18, 2022.
  2. ^ "MLS has told clubs not to sign local deals beyond 2022 in hopes of packaging with national rights". Awful Announcing. March 4, 2019. Retrieved March 25, 2022.
  3. ^ Stejskal, Sam. "MLS media rights deal not likely to be a game-changer, sources say". The Athletic. Retrieved March 25, 2022.
  4. ^ a b "Apple and MLS to present all MLS matches for 10 years, beginning in 2023". Apple Newsroom (Canada). Retrieved June 18, 2022.
  5. ^ a b c d "MLS faces race against time to build broadcast operation ahead of Apple TV deal". The Athletic. October 27, 2022.
  6. ^ a b Forristal, Lauren (November 16, 2022). "Apple to launch 'MLS Season Pass' subscription on February 1". TechCrunch. Retrieved November 18, 2022.
  7. ^ a b Peters, Jay (November 16, 2022). "Apple and Major League Soccer will launch their soccer streaming service on February 1st". The Verge. Retrieved November 18, 2022.
  8. ^ a b c "Apple's Major League Soccer Season Pass debuts February 1st for $99 per year". Engadget. November 16, 2022. Retrieved November 18, 2022.
  9. ^ "MLS Season Pass is now available worldwide on the Apple TV app". Apple Newsroom. Retrieved March 1, 2023.
  10. ^ "Univision acquires Leagues Cup rights but passes on MLS". World Soccer Talk. December 13, 2022.
  11. ^ a b Tannenwald, Jonathan (December 12, 2022). "Univision out of MLS regular-season and playoff TV broadcasts amid new Apple deal". The Philadelphia Inquirer. Retrieved December 25, 2022.
  12. ^ "Major League Soccer, FOX Sports, TelevisaUnivision, TSN & RDS Announce Multi-year Linear TV Rights Agreements | MLSSoccer.com". mlssoccer. Retrieved February 23, 2023.
  13. ^ Rueter, Jeff (November 16, 2022). "MLS, Apple announce pricing, broadcast details for new partnership". The Athletic. Retrieved November 18, 2022.
  14. ^ Sim, Josh (December 13, 2022). "Fox agrees MLS TV deal but ESPN shuns rights". SportsPro. Retrieved December 25, 2022.
  15. ^ "MLS Reveals Cost for New Apple TV Broadcast Package". November 16, 2022.
  16. ^ a b Axon, Samuel (June 14, 2022). "Bad news for cable: A major sports league will stream exclusively on Apple TV". Ars Technica. Retrieved June 16, 2022.
  17. ^ Tannenwald, Jonathan (May 4, 2023). "MLS and Apple change some free game live streaming details on MLS Season Pass". The Philadelphia Inquirer. Retrieved August 10, 2023.
  18. ^ Steinberg, Brian (February 16, 2023). "DirecTV To Provide Major League Soccer Games to Bars, Hotels for 2023 Season". Variety. Retrieved February 16, 2023.
  19. ^ Shanklin, Will (February 16, 2023). "T-Mobile is offering a free year of MLS Season Pass on AppleTV+". Engadget. Retrieved June 27, 2023.
  20. ^ "Watch every MLS match with Apple TV and Optus Sport" (Press release). Optus Sport. June 26, 2023. Retrieved June 27, 2023.
  21. ^ "IMG, NEP to support MLS Season Pass production on Apple TV". SportBusiness. February 15, 2023. Retrieved February 23, 2023.
  22. ^ a b Dachman, Jason (February 15, 2023). "Apple, MLS Pull Back the Curtain on Live-Production Plans for New MLS Season Pass Streaming Service". Sports Video Group. Retrieved February 23, 2023.
  23. ^ Tannenwald, Jonathan (May 25, 2023). "Behind the scenes at Apple and MLS' studios, where every Saturday is 'like the Olympics'". The Philadelphia Inquirer. Retrieved June 26, 2023.
  24. ^ Maurer, Pablo; Stejskal, Sam; Tenorio, Paul. "MLS notebook: Talent lineup for Apple TV deal; owners consider best-of-three in playoffs". The Athletic. Retrieved February 24, 2023.
  25. ^ Brown, Daniel. "MLS debuts Season Pass streaming service on Apple TV". The Athletic. Retrieved February 24, 2023.
  26. ^ Bucholtz, Andrew (January 24, 2023). "MLS and Apple reportedly set to have announcers work regionally". Awful Announcing. Retrieved February 24, 2023.
  27. ^ "MLS Season Pass will have a local angle after all". World Soccer Talk. February 3, 2023. Retrieved February 24, 2023.
  28. ^ McCaskill, Steve (July 25, 2023). "Report: Apple secures 1m MLS Season Pass subscribers as Messi sets TV record". SportsPro. Retrieved September 6, 2023.
  29. ^ Webster, Andrew (June 7, 2023). "Messi's move to MLS is a big deal for Apple". The Verge. Retrieved September 6, 2023.
  30. ^ Toonkel, Jessica (September 5, 2023). "Messi Drives Jump in Apple TV+ and MLS Subscriptions". Wall Street Journal. Retrieved September 12, 2023.
  31. ^ Harris, Christopher (December 14, 2023). "Garber admits MLS Season Pass deal with Apple could pose risk". World Soccer Talk.

External links[edit]