Apple acquires exclusive rights to carry live Major League Soccer games

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Apple has signed on as the new broadcast home of Major League Soccer game as part of a broader plan that will also bring a tiered approach to its Apple TV platform and its sports offerings.

Apple TV+ will be the exclusive home — across broadcast and digital — for live MLS games starting in 2023 and running through 2032.

The tech giant plans on offering a selection of games for free to anyone with a compatible device.

Other games will be relegated to Apple TV+ subscribers, while the third tier with all live games will be offered for an additional fee through a separate streaming offering via the Apple TV app. Additional content including on-demand offerings is planned for subscribers at this level as well.

The move means that ESPN+ will lose its rights to show live games, as will ESPN, Fox, Twitter and various regional sports networks. Games will also not be subject to local blackouts.

MLS still is exploring signing other broadcast deals for simulcasting some games, which is permitted under its agreement with Apple, but they will not be exclusive and Apple TV will still always carry live games.

According to The Streamable, Apple is paying a minimum fee of $250 million per year to MLS — but, in an unusual twist for streaming rights, it could end up paying more if it hits certain revenue marks from the top tier.

Games will include both English and Spanish language commentary, with French also available for events featuring teams from Canada.

Apple and MLS also plan to offer an enhanced section in Apple News about the league.

Apple acquired the rights to select Friday night Major League Baseball games in 2022, airing two games on various Fridays from April to the summer. Select games were available for free as well.

This is a relatively small slate of games, however, and Fox and ABC-ESPN also hold rights, along with select NBC Sports regional networks. Other games also stream on Peacock and YouTube.

MLB Network handles production for Apple’s games, and it’s not immediately clear who will provide production services for MLS games or if Apple will attempt to build its own production arm.

Apple reportedly pays around $85 million a year to MLB, which includes a $55 million rights fee and a $30 million advertising commitment by Apple, though the deal can be cut short after the second year.

Airing professional and college sports events on streaming and digital platforms has become more common in recent years and it appears that this could be leading to heated competition among legacy broadcasters and big tech companies interesting in airing live sports content.