Who is the Apple TV+ Deal Good For?
That’s an easy one
I was excited.
I can’t say that I’ve been gung-ho, day 1, all about that MLS life. I haven’t. But for the past six years I have been paying enough attention. And with the attention I’ve been paying, I’ve always felt that they can do better.
You never knew what channel your team was coming on, if it would be on time, or if you could even see it.
So the Apple TV+ deal? That seemed like an amazing deal and I was excited…until they rolled that biyah out. Now I got questions. Because we’re a month in and I can’t see how this could grow the sport.
Then…who is it for? That’s easy.
“The Sky. His eyes are always on the sky. Because out of the vast blue dome comes that for which he searches.” That’s the opening of Try and Catch the Wind and whether it’s written by Louis Schmidt or Bob Ryan, whether the music is by Wayne Weiss or Sam Spence, with John Facenda narrating the sum of those pieces made the NFL larger than life.
Prior to NFL Films, the Yankees may have been considered the biggest franchise in the US. But once Bob Ryan dubbed the Dallas Cowboys America’s Team, it stuck.
Professional football had a problem. In terms of popularity, they were practically the runt in the litter (the NBA was that runt). Baseball ruled the roost. Boxing and college football were going toe to toe. No one was thinking about no NFL.
As I wrote about here, Ed Sabol solved that problem.
Now, 74.5% of all Americans list football as their favorite sport. Meanwhile, the sport Americans call soccer languishes at 21.6%. That’s not a problem, it’s an opportunity.
I thought the Apple TV+ deal would solve it. It’s early still, but that doesn’t appear what it’s set up for.
I don’t like the MLS set up.
It’s foreign to most professional leagues. The cryptic salary system, the weird ownership structure, I would have to write a 10,000 word tutorial on that alone. Suffice it to say, the MLS system was put into place for stability and to avoid the mishaps of the NASL.
The over-spending of that league and its retirement home reputation was a cautionary tale if there ever was one. Although the retirement home feature does remain (rumors of Messi coming to the MLS as an example), there’s no chance of them overspending.
That’s mostly because of the MLS Single-Entity corporate structure. All teams and all players are a part of Major League Soccer, LLC of which owners buy into. They’re investors. Players don’t have contracts with teams per se, they have them with the league and are “assigned” to teams.
That’s forty-eight words. No mas.
And there’s little chance of failure and regular season success means nothing. You can have the best record in the MLS, win the Supporter’s Shield (da fuck), but then lose out in the ever-expanding playoffs (eighteen of the twenty-nine teams will go). You can suck every damn season and oh well. Finish at the bottom of the league, no problem, you won’t be relegated. The stakes are so low.
I hate that set up.
Nonetheless, MLS has seen a steady growth year on year which has fueled continuous expansion, attendance is up 67% over the past decade. Almost half of those fans make $75,000 a year. Although the viewership pales in comparison to the NFL, more people watch MLS than folks watch hockey.
But it’s hard to tell. Most teams have little to no presence in their cities. I thought the Apple TV+ deal was to expand those numbers and for the league to push for growth.
Which is hardly competitive.
For the fans, sure. We all support our teams and follow the teams surrounding ours on the table. There’s a winner and loser (or a draw) for each match. There’s the Supporter’s Shield, as we discussed earlier, and there’s the MLS Cup (the winner even gets a star on their kit).
But that’s it.
Take the kit deal.
Where English Premier League teams each have their own individual deals with brands: Adidas, Nike, Puma, Macron, Umbro, Hummel, & Castore that have yearly payouts from as high as $75M a year to as low as $2M, every MLS team has a a deal with Adidas…every team gets the same payout.
The same goes for the Apple TV+ deal. The $250M over ten year deal is split evenly among the twenty-nine teams. There is no differentiation between top of the league teams or lower league teams, Supporter Shield or MLS Cup winners — everyone gets the same bite of the cake. There is no merit pay.
Ok, sure the Apple TV deal promises to have more original programming. Sure it promises better quality broadcasts, but for who? Certainly not the new viewer. That programming will be geared to those who are seeking it out.
First, Apple TV+ is ranked sixth among all streaming services with a 5% share (in comparison to Netflix at 23% and Amazon Prime at 20%). Second, the MLS Package costs an additional $14.99. Ain’t no one paying $25 on a ho hum to discover Major League Soccer.
So that pretty much cancels out new viewers.
The MLS, a closed network, where teams neither receive more benefit in television rights payoffs for winning the league nor lose any for finishing bottom, where every team splits Kit sponsorship, where almost half of the supporters are at the top end of middle class, where there is little to no presence in most cities, I think it’s safe to say that the MLS owners are fine with this.
I think it’s safe to say that there is no desire for the league to grow beyond its present demographic.
I think it’s safe to say that this Apple TV+ deal is proof. For all intents and purpose, it’s an exclusive deal — a deal that people who are already Major League Soccer supporters will enjoy. But if Don Garber wanted to take this sport to another level, he would be open to creating content like the type that Ed Sabol presented to Pete Rozelle. He would be open to solving the current problem.
And it’s a problem. As I stated, I’ve been following MLS for six years and still know very little of the League’s history, have no idea about any of the rivalries beyond El Trafico, can’t name five players that aren’t on Atlanta United (meanwhile I know 80% of the players in the EPL), and I’m into the sport. I can’t be alone in that.
It’s a problem.
But not for the owners. The Apple TV+ deal is no different than anything else in the League. It benefits the owners…I mean the League. That’s it.