Wed. Jun 7th, 2023

June 15, 2022

In 2014, MLS and US Soccer signed a new television deal with ESPN, FOX Sports, and Univision Deportes for eight years. This means [add the 8, carry the 1] that deal ends at the conclusion of the 2022 season.

On Tuesday, MLS released its new broadcast deal with Apple, which will start in 2023. The 10-year deal will include all MLS matches without the local blackouts that many ESPN+ users currently experience.

Courtesy Major League Soccer

What can we watch on Apple TV Streaming in 2023?
“We’re gonna call this drill ‘The Exorcist’ ’cause it’s all about controlling possession.”

  • All Minnesota United MLS matches
  • All the other MLS Teams’ MLS matches
  • A whip-around program Saturday evenings, cycling through live look-ins and highlights from different games airing concurrently
  • All Leagues Cup matches — 2023 edition will include all MLS and Liga MX teams
  • The Campeones Cup — MLS Cup winner vs Liga MX “Campeón de Campeones” (winner between their Apertura and Clausura champions)
  • Select MLS NEXT Pro (developmental league) matches
  • Select MLS NEXT (youth academy) matches

What technology will we need?
“If the internet has taught us anything, it’s that sometimes it’s easier to speak our minds anonymously.”

Apple TV app is/will be available for the following:

  • Apple products: iPhone, iPad, Mac OS computers, Apple TV 4K, and Apple TV HD
  • Smart TVs: TVs with internet connections and Web 2.0 features
  • Digital media players: Roku, Amazon Fire TV, or Chromecast with Google TV
  • PlayStation and Xbox gaming consoles
  • Comcast Xfinity cable service

Those without these technologies can watch MLS via the internet:

What will this all cost us?
“She’s got some fences, alright, but you just gotta hop over ’em.”

The three levels of access

  • MLS streaming package: All of the MLS content mentioned above
    Cost: to be determined — but free for MLS season ticket holders
  • Apple TV+: a certain number of MLS and Leagues Cup matches with an Apple TV+ subscription
    Cost: currently $5 per month
  • Apple TV app and “limited number of matches available for free”
Callum Williams (play-by-play), USWNT player Carli Lloyd, Kyndra de St. Aubin (color commentary) before Lloyds last USWNT game – with permission from MNUFC

Changes and Questions
“I know change can be scary. One minute, you are playing freeze tag out there at recess with all your buddies. Next thing you know, you’re getting zits, your voice gets low.”

  • MLS set game times will be 7 PM Wednesday and 7 PM Saturday
    — barring stadium issues or linear TV (cable or satellite) schedule priority
  • The 2014 deal included MLS and the US Soccer Federation. This included USMNT, USWNT, and US Open Cup games. Earlier this year, the USSF announced an 8-year, English-language deal with Turner sports.

    From 2023-2030, Turner will air 20+ USMNT & USWNT matches. TNT & TBS will air about half of those. All games, whether on Linear TV or not, will be streamed live and on-demand through HBO Max.
  • With Apple TV app or website, there will be no blackouts unlike the current situation with ESPN+.
  • National linear TV (e.g. ESPN, FOX, Univision) broadcasts may still happen — several articles said negotiations are on-going.
  • Local broadcasts are gone — no Bally’s Sports North, no CW Twin Cities for MNUFC fans
  • Fans will be able to mute the Apple broadcast audio and select a team’s local radio audio. For MNUFC, does this mean Callum Williams and Kyndra de St. Aubin will move to the radio broadcast team?
  • The Apple broadcasts will be available in English and Spanish for all games. Club de Foot Montréal games will also be available in French. In 2025, MLS and Apple plan to add Portuguese commentary.

“It’s just a group of people who care, Roy. Not unlike folks at a hip-hop concert whose hands are not in the air.”

I caught up with a bar owner and a couple MNUFC season-ticket holders. What did they have to say?

Wes Burdine – owner Black Hart of St. Paul

The predictability of the game times:
“In general, having really set play times is always good for the audience. If it’s always on a Wednesday or Saturday at 7pm, other than a few maybe ESPN games, that regular schedule is super helpful.”

Streaming vs linear TV:
“Really, it’s just a matter of the kind of inability to have other games just randomly on the television. You have to be a lot more deliberate to put on a game when it’s streaming as opposed to just having Fox Sports on [and] a couple of games will be on there. So it makes it harder to just have casual kind of soccer — just enjoyable when you’re in the bar without thinking about what game should I put on.

“A real problem right now is that there’s seven different apps to use. And so trying to make sure that that each bartender knows ESPN versus the ESPN app versus Peacock versus whatever is just a huge pain in the butt. If it’s always on Apple, then it’s a little bit easier to just say, ‘Hey, here’s how to do this,’ for everyone. But yeah, there is the technology part of it. That just makes it a bit of a pain where you have to go through these extra steps which is not a deal breaker. But when it’s a random person who just wants a Portland-Montreal game on, and then to make it work you have to press seven different buttons, it’s a bit more of a hassle.”

Mike Brandes – MNUFC season ticket holder, St. Paul resident

In tweet reply about the new deal, Mike Brandes echoed Wes’s concern about bars having more difficulty showing MLS games: “A 10-year deal is a long period of time to see if the ‘no games on randomly at a bar’ is going to hurt the league and teams.”

Eric Silva Brenneman – Co-producer, Minnesota Fútbol Show

“I’m looking at it positively. I think it looks good, in the sense that I already have the subscription. It’s very centralized. It looks like it’s going to be a one stop shop, as it were, for all the matches. It looks like this is something about season ticket holders: we’re gonna get an automatic membership, right? Which is great. I mean, I wish they would have had that six years ago or something similar to it.”

We reminisced about the NASL and early MLS days of free Over-The-Air (OTA) broadcasts on 45tv or My29. Eric remembered, “The quality may not have been great, but in terms of just having a broadcast that was easily acceptable and was consistent, it was always there and never had to worry about it. I could turn on Channel 5-2 or 23-2 or whatever it was — and boom, there was the match. There was no hunting for it, didn’t have to worry about paying for a streaming service.”

Eric ended with this summary: “I’m trying to keep a glass-half-full outlook here. It looks good on paper. I mean, you and I both know how these things can play out in practice and in reality, but at the moment, I think it looks cool.”

History Progresses and Repeats
“What I can tell you is that with the exception of the wit and wisdom of Calvin and Hobbes, not much lasts forever.”

Every change comes with pros and cons. Some of us remember having little-to-no-access to local pro soccer on television. It made going to the games live more special — but if we couldn’t be in the stadium, there was no way to watch the game.

Then we had the free Over-The-Air stations, but those were only available in the Twin Cities metro area. Minnesota United eventually partnered with Fox Sports North (now Sinclair-Broadcasting-rebranded Bally Sports North) for coverage over the entire state of Minnesota and surrounding states too. Fans from Minot to Milwaukee could now watch home and away games. However, whether near or far, many fans did not want to pay for a linear TV service such as Comcast xfinity or DirecTV.

In 2021, Minnesota United continued with the larger-broadcast-region Bally Sports North. For some games, the CW twin cities would also broadcast the BSN feed. If we were in the CW twin cities broadcast area, we now had a free OTA option again.

Minnesota United fans do not all watch the same way. Some currently watch on BSN, some use the CW twin cities, and others use ESPN+ with ways around their local blackouts.

Next year will bring in more changes. For many cable cutters, especially Apple TV app users and Apple TV+ subscribers, this is all positive. Those who use cable, satellite, or antenna TV will need to adapt. Those without season tickets who enjoy free games on the CW will have to pay for Apple’s streaming package or go to their local bar — except not all bars will subscribe to the MLS package on the Apple TV app.

Ultimately, will this $250,000,000-per-year deal between MLS and Apple help grow the game, grow their audience, and make more revenue? Stay tuned.

By Matthew Johnson

Matthew "MJ" Johnson is a freelance writer based in Minneapolis. In 2007, he discovered UEFA Champions League. His complex spreadsheets went from college football bowl season to European club soccer, and his fandom soon followed. In 2011, a friend Wes made the mistake of inviting him to an NSC Minnesota Stars game, where he fell in love with local soccer. Matthew co-hosts The Daves I Know podcast and occasionally guest hosts the MN Fútbol Show. When not playing broomball or watching soccer, he repairs bicycles and sharpens knives for money but fuses cuisines for fun. Follow Matthew on Twitter @mjmattsui

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