CUPERTINO, Calif. (AP) — After making its first foray into sports streaming last year, Apple Inc. is now dipping its toe into it.
The tech giant kicked off a 10-year partnership with Major League Soccer on Wednesday with the launch of season passes on Apple TV+.
“It’s very important to us. It’s one of the key things we’re going to do this year and the next 10 years. We’re part of a family now,” Apple CEO Tim Cook said at Apple Park last month. In a speech given by MLS players, owners and media.
Apple’s announcement comes after a transformative year for sports and streaming services. The NFL embraced streaming further last year, as Prime Video aired “Thursday Night Football,” and Major League Baseball teamed up with Apple TV and Peacock to stream games. The NFL also struck a deal with Google’s YouTube TV to offer a “Sunday Ticket” package starting next season.
Tech companies and broadcasters likewise see value in live sports. Revenue from sports streaming subscription packages is expected to grow 73% to $22.6 billion by 2027 after generating $13.1 billion last year, according to a recent Parks Associates report.
In the age of disconnection, tech companies, advertisers and sports leagues are also seeing younger viewers continue to switch to streaming and watch for longer.
According to Amazon tracking data, 22% of viewers of “Thursday Night Football” on Prime Video fall into the coveted 18-34 age group, compared with 14% of viewers watching NFL games on linear networks.
The average watch time for Thursday Night games was 85 minutes — 9 minutes more than non-Prime games.
Apple’s partnership with MLS makes sense for both parties. Various studies have found that football fans are more likely to watch sporting events on streaming devices or recorded TV.
“This deal expresses where things have been going for a while and moves them forward,” said Daniel Kirschner, co-founder and CEO of Greenfly, a digital media distribution platform that works with more than 30 alliances.
MLS will receive at least $250 million per season from Apple. Under the previous eight-year deal with Fox, ESPN and Univision, the league averaged $90 million per season.
Apple has dabbled in sports streaming before, but this is its first major involvement with league games.Major League Baseball aired two games last Friday night on Apple TV+, including one in which St. Louis’ Albert Pujols became the fourth player in baseball history to hit 700 career home runs.
The deal could be a harbinger of where sports streaming and league media rights are headed.
Apple and MLS are collaborating on a direct-to-consumer product that will allow fans to watch every game without local blackouts or restrictions, with coverage outside of North America. Fans in London, Paris and wherever the Apple TV app is available will also be able to watch the game.
“We study sports and recognize that now is the best time to be a sports fan, and it’s the best time to be a sports fan,” said Eddy Cue, Apple’s senior vice president of services. relationship, we have the opportunity to bring an even better experience to fans and help grow the sport and the league in the U.S. and beyond.”
MLS is taking over the production of all of its games, similar to how European soccer leagues are run. But other leagues, such as the English Premier League and Bundesliga, sell their rights to broadcast outlets in each country. In this case, only one store — Apple — owns the worldwide rights.
Even games from Fox in the US, TSN and RDS in Canada, and Televisa Univision will appear on the Apple TV+ app.
“I think they’re the right alliance to recognize that the long-term value of their rights is best served with a streaming partner or a technology partner, rather than a traditional alliance that still requires traditional networks to pay billions of dollars,” said Frequency’s senior vice president The company provides software for ad-supported streaming channels, Jon Cohen said. “I think now is the right time for both sides to do that.”
While Apple TV+ became the first streaming service to win an Academy Award for Best Picture last year for “The Epilogue,” and “Ted Lasso” won two consecutive Emmys for Best Comedy, it hasn’t transformed into an entertainment company. Company or studio. It’s still a diverse company.
“Sports drives a lot of engagement on the media side. I think it shows that they have a very specific strategy in terms of growing subscriptions and video offerings,” Cohen said.
MLS and Apple’s progress will be closely watched by other leagues. While the NFL, NHL and baseball teams have completed rights deals over the past two years, the NBA is expected to own some streaming content when it begins negotiations on its media rights this year.
Cue and Cook admit there will be growing pains in the first year, especially as MLS catches up with its own production company. Still, everyone is focused on the project’s potential and the way forward.
“People will say we’re the smartest guy in the room, or we’re a few years early,” MLS Commissioner Don Garber said. “The opportunities are endless, but this is a testing business.”
Follow Joe Reedy on Twitter at https://twitter.com/joeredy
AP MLS: https://apnews.com/hub/major-league-soccer and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports