Apple and MLS recently agreed a 10-year exclusive media rights deal, running from early 2023 through 2032. But what could it mean for other major sports leagues and rights holders?

Throughout the 2010s, the biggest battles in sport increasingly played out not only on the field of play, but in the boardrooms of the largest global streaming platforms. Apple and Major League Soccer (MLS) are now preparing to enter an unprecedented partnership which could change the landscape of sports broadcasting rights for years to come.

MLS recently agreed a 10-year deal with streaming giant Apple TV worth 2.5 billion US dollars. The deal will enable supporters worldwide to consume all MLS matches in one place and is the first to provide exclusive rights to a single streaming platform of any major pro sports league. 

MLS now has the exclusive backing of a huge brand and the relationship is set to be mutually beneficial with each partner incentivised to grow and expand. 

The deal allows MLS to serve its young, technologically savvy fanbase more effectively; it means, too, that Apple can simultaneously support the growth of the league and promote its own evolving platform.  

“Think about Apple and what they’ve done to sort of be ubiquitous in our lives in ways that really matter to us, with great products, with news and information, with music  

“When we were setting up what our new media strategy would look like … this idea of taking our local games, taking all of our games that traditionally were on linear networks, taking our games that we would sell globally, and then taking all the content that we’re producing over the years …and aggregating all of that into one package and trying to deliver that to one partner that can make it easy for our fans to access everything that they love about the game.” 

Don Garber, MLS Commissioner

Apple has increasingly permeated live sports streaming this year, having started its assault with the announcement of an MLB streaming deal in March. 

The growth appeal of MLS is significant in comparison to other major American sports leagues considering its natural inferiority in the market. Apple views the deal as a smart investment: MLS is the fastest-growing league in world soccer having more than doubled in size to 29 member clubs over the last 15 years. 

From an MLS standpoint, long-term commercial growth is surely a key driver behind this decision. Understanding its younger demographic fanbase – and feeding fans content they want in an accessible way they are accustomed to – is a fundamental change in approach. 

The Apple and MLS deal represents a commercial shift with a rightsholder essentially giving control of their content to a brand. If done well, this could be a commercial blueprint for others to follow with a younger generation of fans at the forefront of mind. 

It’s a significant risk to take the league behind a paywall and initially seems to be a better deal for MLS. Other leagues will certainly be looking on with interest at how this historic agreement plays out. 

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