With the release of Major League Soccer (MLS) Season Pass at the beginning of February, Apple is hoping to revolutionize the way fans of soccer in the USA consume the beautiful game. Offering every single game of both Major League Soccer and Leagues Cup with no local blackouts, the service promises to delight the hardcore MLS fan, but how will it fare with the casual audience?
At the cost of $99 per season, or $14.99 monthly, to anyone approaching the Season Pass without a pre-existing Apple TV+ subscription ($79 yearly, $12.99 monthly with Apple TV+ subscription), one may argue that the service makes for a hard sale to the casual fan. Looking at the soccer selection and price point of Paramount+, for example, the offer of Champions League, Serie A, Liga Profesional Argentina, Europa League, etc. at a monthly cost of $4.99 blows away the value of the MLS Season Pass.
The difference, however, is the dedicated support the MLS Season pass has in the form of additional content with each club required by Apple to create additional content in the form of club profiles, player profiles and other non-club-specific content—such as short documentaries on iconic playoff moments, montages of iconic MLS players and “The Movement.” The offerings are impressive, especially when considered alongside the fact that subscribers can watch every MLS Cup final and All-Star game since the league’s 1996 inaugural season coupled with further classic MLS games.
The quality varies massively on a club-to-club basis. FC Dallas’ club profile, for example, is an extremely interesting look into not only the team itself, but the role Lamar Hunt played in the growth of soccer in the United States, whereas many teams provide a fairly by-the-books highlights montage that fails to leave a lasting impression.
So far, “The Movement” consists of a series of six 20 minute documentaries discussing social and cultural issues surrounding soccer in America. Standouts from the selection are “Stonewall to Wonderwall” discussing LGBT involvement in the sport and “Being Muslim in MLS,” focusing on a contingent of Muslim players in the league. While a worthwhile addition to the Season Pass, it is worth noting that “The Movement” has been present on the MLS YouTube channel for a long time now, with a wider selection of episodes than the MLS Season Pass.
The question still remains, is the Season Pass preaching to the converted? If so, the move to give free subscriptions to season ticket holders at every MLS club may further condense subscription earnings. Making round one of every club’s fixtures free to view for any Apple TV+ subscriber, as well as providing select matches throughout the season may prove to be a deft move. As is the nature of this 10-year deal, Apple must have faith in the growth of MLS and at $250 million per year, the company has provided the league with a substantial financial boost to aid in development.
While it may prove a slow conversion process in the US, where top level European soccer is readily available at extremely affordable prices, one could imagine the Season Pass’ availability to over 100 countries worldwide to make waves abroad. In the United Kingdom, for example, a monthly BT Sport package will cost £29.99, approximately $36, as of Feb. 17. Though time zones will without a doubt have a detrimental effect on European sales, with most Eastern Conference games kicking off on Saturdays at 19:30 EST (00:30 GMT), the offer of occasional free games, combined with the development of quality within the league, may pique the interest of European night owls, helping grow the MLS’ global identity.
MLS and Apple TV’s partnership seems to mirror the league itself. While initially the Season Pass may find itself ignored by the general American soccer fan, the subscriber base has potential to grow. If Apple is using this deal as an immersion into sports streaming, it has chosen wisely. If correctly nurtured, MLS Season pass could prove to be a launching pad for both the league and company in this field and a glimpse into the future of sports consumption in the digital age.
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