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When you think of Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) it’s safe to say the word “sports” doesn’t necessarily come to mind.
Given Apple’s a tech company, that would make sense but also given Apple’s penchant for innovation, it also shouldn’t be a real shock either.
This week, Apple made another big deal for its streaming platform and at the same time stands ready to do what it does best … drag others into the future whether they are ready or not.
First, as always, some background.
We know in streaming that content is king, and the latest arms race to secure that content is coming from the world of sports. A number of the streamers have already dived into this space, and it is expected to remain a lucrative field for some time to come.
Apple is no exception. While it entered the fray late, in typical Apple fashion it made its presence felt.
A few months ago, it signed a deal with MLB for a new Friday Night baseball double-header packages that brought games exclusively to Apple TV+. It was presumed to be the first step in a larger play, and this week those presumptions were proven correct.
Apple has swooped in and signed the rights to Major League Soccer (MLS) in a new 10-year deal slated to kick off early next year. The package includes ALL the MLS games and promises to be a one-stop-shop for soccer fans.
There’s a lot to unpack there because it’s big news on a variety of levels.
At the basic level, it adds soccer to the Apple TV family of content, which paired with baseball continues to see it expand into a market where consumers have interest. With an Apple TV+ subscription bundled into the deal, it also helps (once-again) juice its subscriber count.
And then there is the larger level, that as usual with Apple, will have far-reaching effects.
The MLS deal is not your typical content play. It is not just about getting the games, it’s about getting all the games and building what amounts to a new service specifically designed for Major League Soccer – not unlike what MLB, NHL and NBA have for their games. Keep in mind, this would also be a gated-off premium area in the Apple TV app that will be separate from the other Apple TV+ offerings.
Getting all the games is no small feat as currently the other major sports, which offer similar all-in-one packages through cable/streaming, have blackout restrictions in place. In other words, you can’t watch your home market team anywhere but through whatever channel has the broadcast rights in your area.
This new deal bypasses those blackouts.
It’s essentially a roadmap for other leagues to follow and eventually ditch the arcane restrictions that have hampered sports for years. Originally, the rules were put in place to help protect key rights owners, but a lot of things have evolved since that point.
This new model makes for a strong package that if you are a fan of MLS, you’ll likely consider buying.
Of course, we don’t yet know what the cost will be, but Apple did make a point to mention that select (and meaningful) games would also be available for free to Apple TV+ subscribers, which also makes sense.
In either case, it is very clear Apple believes in the popularity of soccer and is looking to associate itself with it for the foreseeable future.
But the company isn’t likely done there, and as one analyst put it, “this may just be an appetizer” for Apple.
It’s a sentiment seemingly echoed by Wedbush Securities Managing Director Dan Ives who went a little more in-depth in an interview with Yahoo! saying “there’s been a clear DNA change within Apple the last 18 months about live sports content.”
Backing up that assumption is the belief that Apple either has made a deal or is close to making a deal with the NFL to take over its Sunday Ticket package of games from DirecTV, also starting in 2023. The package is expected to move to a streamer, and Apple TV would be a natural fit.
If the rumor is true, Sunday Ticket would likely follow this same approach where it would be a pay-walled area separate from Apple TV+ content but have some type of free options.
It would also be a huge win for Apple and further align them to compete in this streaming space. Having three of today’s top leagues as partners providing some level of exclusive content and options through your pipeline will continue to help the platform stand out and define itself in a crowded market.
As CNBC put it, these types of deals “show how strong businesses can grow even in tough times.”
Apple’s streaming path has long been a mystery that has baffled the industry and its experts. Many have summarized it was everything from a costly flop to a loss leader, when in reality it’s always been a value-added play.
Part of that success is because it’s open to changes and is trying to be as nimble as possible to keep up with the pack. It is seeing what the market is doing – or in some cases not doing – and pivoting accordingly. For now, that along with a quality over quantity approach seems to be working…even if it just fully decided to fully lean into that direction the other year.
Sports was an area that was always on the peripherals of the company’s tentacles but never one many assumed it would splurge to get involved with in a major capacity. Even the MLB deal didn’t give clear guidance as it was a very “Apple” deal that dipped its toe in the waters at a modest price … after all it was just two games a week.
This MLS deal is on the opposite end of the spectrum – Apple didn’t just test the waters here, it bought the pool!
While not confirmed, many are reporting this was a $2.5 billion deal which is a very un-Apple like move. It is known for not spending big, instead, it just finds workarounds when the price tag gets too high or it finds new ways to make the numbers work in their favor.
This is Apple buying in fully to the concept.
And that should worry others in the space.
Remember when Apple decided to do away with the headphone jack and consumers basically had to go along with it if they wanted an iPhone. It’s the same thing here, just in this case switch out consumers for the industry itself. Apple’s showing a new way of doing things is possible, with things like blackout restrictions not being the end-all anymore.
After all, if we’ve learned anything about Apple, it is that if it’s going to spend money on something, it’s going to leave its mark.
This article was written by
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