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Apple TV+ in Talks to Land MLS Broadcasting Rights; ESPN, Turner Also Interested

Matt Tamanini

Hot on the heels of the first edition of Apple TV+’s “Friday Night Baseball” — the platform’s first live sports broadcast — it now appears that the technology giant is looking to expand its live sports offerings. On the latest episode of “The Marchand and Ourand Sports Media Podcast,” New York Post sports media reporter Andrew Marchand mentioned that the rapidly growing streamer was in the mix to obtain the broadcast rights to Major League Soccer.

While reviews were mixed on Apple TV+’s “new” approach to baseball streaming, it seems like the service believes that live sports will be a differentiator in the increasingly cluttered streaming wars.

The MLS is looking for a new home for its media rights package beginning in the 2023 season. The domestic soccer league’s current broadcast partners are ESPN, Fox Sports, and Univision in the United States; and TSN and TVA Sports in Canada.

Sam Stejskal, a soccer writer for The Athletic, noted on Twitter earlier this week that in addition to Apple, ESPN and Univision were also still in the mix for the domestic rights and while Turner Sports remains interested, last week’s WarnerMedia and Discovery merger has put any and all discussions on hold for the time being.

Turner has already secured broadcast rights to a large portion of the men’s and women’s U.S. National Soccer teams’ games and plans for some of those contests to be available exclusively on HBO Max. Pairing the USMNT and USWNT games with the country’s top-level league could be an attractive option for the newly christened Warner Bros. Discovery, but the merger-necessitated delay might make that deal impossible to complete in time.

The strategy for most sports leagues has recently been to diversify their broadcasting options by having games available on multiple networks and platforms, especially as streaming has become more viable. While leagues see this as a way to reach viewers across various age and socioeconomic demographics, fans see it as leagues unnecessarily complicating how they watch their favorite teams.

From a business perspective, Marchand doesn’t see this move as paying major dividends for Apple. He believes that given the ubiquitousness of higher quality European leagues like the Premier League, LaLiga, and Bundesliga — all of which have U.S. broadcast deals — the MLS needs to dramatically improve its on-field product in order for their broadcast rights to really move the needle for any potential partner.

“Video-wise, it doesn’t have the historical advantage (compared to European leagues), and I don’t think it’s a great product,” Marchand said on the podcast. “They need to improve their league to really be a top three or four league in the world if they’re really going to get people to watch in big numbers.”

Apple TV+

Apple TV+ is a subscription video streaming service for $4.99 a month that includes high-quality originals shows and movies including Best Picture winner “CODA,” popular sitcom “Ted Lasso,” and dramas like “The Morning Show” and “For All Mankind.” Apple TV+ is also home to MLB baseball games on Friday nights.

They have titles coming from Oprah, Jennifer Aniston, Reese Witherspoon, Jason Momoa, J.J. Abrams, M. Night Shyamalan, Jennifer Garner, and Octavia Spencer.

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