Apple Services Chief Eddy Cue Hails Major League Soccer Streaming Deal As “Huge Global Opportunity” For Tech Giant

Eddy Cue, who leads Apple’s services business and has spearheaded the company’s push into subscription streaming and live sports, called a recently minted deal with Major League Soccer “a huge global opportunity” for the tech giant.

The remarks came during a rare speaking engagement for Cue at the Paley Center for Media in New York this afternoon, as he and MLS Commissioner Don Garber discussed the 10-year partnership.

Announced last June, the agreement takes effect next summer and is reportedly worth $2.5 billion. In a milestone for the sports media business, the pact will see every MLS game delivered via a new subscription streaming outlet co-run by Apple and the league, though linear broadcasters could still take simulcast rights.

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The two execs described the agreement as having an equal amount of skin in the game. Encompassing areas like production and sponsorship relations, he said, it goes beyond a traditional sports rights deal.

“The only way I win is if he wins,” Cue said. “The only way he wins is if I win. So, it makes it a really unique opportunity. That’s why it hasn’t happened. But I think you’ll see more of it.” Because of the comprehensive nature of the team-up, he added, “If I have a great idea, I don’t have to think, ‘Does my contract allow this?’ And vice-versa on their side. We’re both incented to grow the game, to innovate on the distribution of it.”

Garber said he expects the deal “will be replicated” by other leagues, especially with its dimension of MLS sponsors seeking a direct relationship with Apple.

Pro sports leagues have taken steps recently to exert more control over their streaming rights. The NFL launched subscription service NFL+ as a complement to its overall rights deals, and Major League Baseball is reportedly negotiating to take a more active role in Diamond Sports Group, the struggling regional sports network parent controlled by Sinclair Broadcast Group.

While it was novel to hear Cue on the record in a media industry setting, the panel generated no major headlines, and that was hardly an accident. Unlike most Paley Center events, it did not feature a Q&A period, and the moderator was Rubi Edmondson, sports editorial manager for Apple. Edmondson used a portion of her stage time to do a demo of My Sports, a personalized area of Apple News featured in the company’s latest operating system update, iOS 16.

Cue said even though he has been passionate about sports since well before his college days at Duke, he hadn’t been a soccer fan. He said that he has noticed MLS becoming a bigger part of his overall sports diet over the past three years. Discovery remains a source of friction for not just soccer but other sports, particularly given the longstanding blackout rules that require certain telecasts to be unavailable in certain regions for various reasons.

“It’s gotten harder,” Cue said of finding live sporting events. “You’ve got to find it first. Then when you find it, it’s blacked out.” Garber also said there were 60 different start times and 11 different media venues where fans needed to go in order to catch games in 2022. “Now, they’ll be able to go to one place,” he said, twice a week. Having spent 16 years as an NFL exec, Garber added that “the consistency of their schedule, even with its expansion, is a big driver of their popularity.”

Apple and MLS are hiring English-, Spanish- and French-speaking announcing teams and crews to handle streams that will go to dozens of countries. In the past, even MLS players and their families have struggled to keep up with games if they are in some parts of the world. Garber said if a player from Paraguay takes the field for Sporting Kansas City, the MLS team there, the game will be available in the U.S. but also “in Paraguay, to anyone picking up their phone and seeing this one game accessible to anyone with a connected device.”

For Apple, which operates around the world, including in China, the MLS deal represents a “huge global opportunity,” Cue said. He said “a lot of fun things” are in store on the production side, noting that this season’s MLB streams on Friday nights have enabled the company to experiment with elements like on-screen statistics, high-definition cameras, and microphones on the playing field. (Because of the event’s format, Cue didn’t have to face any questions from anxious New York Yankees fans who had to watch their team’s hero, Aaron Judge, try to break the American League home run record on Apple TV+ instead of on linear TV.)

Pricing and other details have not yet been disclosed for the forthcoming MLS/Apple streaming entity. Cue said a full subscription package will be available, and Apple TV+ will also carry the games for its subscribers, and MLS season ticket holders will get access to the new streaming service at no extra charge.

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