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Apple, MLS 10-Year Deal Reportedly Contains Opt-Out Clause if Subscriber Goals Aren't Met

The Streamable logo The Streamable 3/8/2023 David Satin
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The Major League Soccer season is just barely underway, and so far things have been pretty smooth in the league’s new partnership with Apple. Apple agreed to terms with MLS in June 2022 to become the broadcast home of every MLS match for the next 10 years. From a technical standpoint, the debut of MLS Season Pass on the Apple TV app mostly went well, despite the fact that Apple had just eight months to bring the new service together.

Other challenges lie ahead, specifically the task of drawing in new users. According to a report from the Athletic, the tech company’s contract with MLS includes an opt-out clause that allows Apple to walk away from the deal if MLS Season Pass if it doesn’t accrue a certain number of subscribers in a specific period of time.

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The report doesn’t specify what that time period might be, or how many subscribers MLS Season Pass must bring in to meet its obligations, but does indicate that the option is there for the tech giant to depart the deal if it deems necessary. MLS and Apple have been tight-lipped about the specifics of their deal from the beginning, and that won’t be changing any time soon, according to MLS commissioner Don Garber, who neither confirmed nor denied the existence of an opt-out clause.

“We’ve never talked about what the specific terms (of the agreement) are,” he said, “and we’re not going to talk about it now. It’s a 10-year partnership. We’re both very, very committed to that. I am wholeheartedly convinced that this company and our league are going to be together for a very long time.”

There is data available to suggest that perhaps MLS and Apple have nothing to fear. Soccer was a big driver of streaming service subscriptions in 2022, with events like the FIFA World Cup bringing in big new user numbers for Peacock and YouTube TV. MLS is not as globally beloved as the World Cup or even European football, but the data still portends well for Apple.

If the company feels that it does eventually have to exercise its opt-out clause, it may make more major sports leagues hesitant to do business with the company in the future. Apple has reportedly looked into making a play for the Pac-12's media rights, but a relationship of that nature must go both ways. Apple has to make itself attractive enough to sports leagues and conferences to be considered a viable broadcast partner, and it may find itself having to explain to other commissioners why it could not help bring in enough users to MLS Season Pass to make it worth keeping, so even if the MLS deal doesn’t result in the large subscriber totals that either side would want, it might not behoove Apple to walk away in the long run.

It’s unknown if Apple insisted on a similar clause in its negotiations for NFL Sunday Ticket before exiting that potential deal, but it would make sense. DIRECTV reportedly lost a good deal of money in the final years of its ownership of Sunday Ticket, and market analysts estimate YouTube TV will have to bring in 4.5 million subscribers to break even on the acquisition. That would be more than twice as many users as Sunday Ticket ever had on DIRECTV, even at its height. Apple may have seen those numbers and tried to insert a similar opt-out clause in a potential deal, which would have been a non-starter for the NFL.

In the short term, this means MLS fans who are enjoying MLS Season Pass should tell as many friends as possible. Everyone in the sports media world will be keeping an eye on the 2023 MLS season now, because if Apple decides to opt out of its deal, it could be a while before it finds another league willing to do business with it.

MLS Season Pass

MLS Season Pass will have every match of the MLS regular season, Audi 2023 MLS Cup Playoffs, and Leagues Cup — all in one place and with no blackouts. The service launches February 1, 2023.

The majority of games in the 2023 season will be played on Saturdays and select Wednesdays, with 7:30 p.m. local start times. To complement the action, MLS Season Pass will offer a five-hour live whip-around show, capturing all of the key moments from every match from the start of the Eastern Conference games through the final whistle of the Western Conference games (7:30 p.m. ET-12:30 a.m. ET).

Subscription prices are lower for Apple TV+ subscribers.


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