MLS embarks on new era with Apple partnership and debut of MLS Season Pass

Nov 3, 2022; Los Angeles, California, US;  The Philip F. Anschutz Trophy at Apple The Grove. Mandatory Credit: Kiyoshi Mio-USA TODAY Sports
MLS Season Pass on Apple TV debuts Feb. 1. (Kiyoshi Mio-USA TODAY Sports) (USA TODAY USPW / reuters)

Several months ago, Major League Soccer commissioner Don Garber and Apple’s senior vice president of services Eddy Cue just happened to run into each other in Mexico. A brief “we should talk” type of interaction essentially laid the foundation for what would become a monumental moment in American soccer.

In early January the two were once again together, this time in San Jose, California, flashing nothing but smiles as they relished in the excitement of the new 10-year partnership between Apple and MLS. MLS Season Pass, a subscription service for fans in over 100 countries that will feature every live MLS game with no blackouts, was the result of their Mexico conversation.

A way to help grow an already rapidly evolving league and put the product out worldwide — a one-stop shop for everything MLS. The joy in their January link-up revolved around the unveiling of some talent and broadcasters that will help lead this project.

If you’re a fan of the game in the U.S., names like Taylor Twellman, Maurice Edu, Kyndra de St. Aubin, Lori Lindsey and Max Bretos should stand out to you. If you’re a fan of the league specifically, Sacha Kljestan, Bradley Wright-Phillips and Diego Valeri definitely resonate.

Those are just a handful of a talented roster that is expected to be around 80 people.

“The level of diversity in our fanbase I think should also be reflected on our analyst team,” Edu, who was fresh off covering the 2022 Qatar World Cup for Fox Sports, told Yahoo Sports. “When you’re able to have that range in terms of people’s experiences and be able to merge that together, that’s how you get the best product.”

Apple and MLS are taking a unique approach and hoping for a substantial response. Broadcasts for every game will be available in English and Spanish, along with French for the Canadian teams. Season pass will also feature pregame shows, a whip-around show, postgame and much more.

The gripe with fans, as always, is the price — $99 per season, $79 for Apple TV+ subscribers. There is also an option for monthly payments instead.

But as the landscape of TV shifts, especially in sports, a deal of this magnitude seems to make sense for the consumer. Everything will live in a hub that will be available on billions of devices around the globe.

“It’s the future. I’m proud of what it represents,” Garber said. “It’s not yesterday’s news, this is tomorrow’s news in terms of what sports broadcasting is going to look like.”

While both sides are passionate and optimistic, one of the most important aspects is the structure it will create. MLS has players representing over 80 different countries throughout the league, and a main headache in the past was access to games. Plus the schedule (start times, days) was never aligned and made viewing more difficult. Now matches are set to take place mostly on Wednesdays and Saturdays (a few on Sundays) with a majority kicking off at 7:30 p.m. local time.

Not only does it simplify matters for fans, the players also appreciate the shift.

Toronto FC midfielder Mark-Anthony Kaye, who used to play in Los Angeles and Denver, recalled moments his mom would message from Canada about the difficulty of being able to watch certain games. That is no longer a problem.

“It never really crossed my mind that a partnership like this would really alleviate a lot of those stresses for so many of our fans, families, friends,” Kaye said. “And for the players too because we watch MLS all the time. It’s a good feeling to know that the league understands these issues and have done a really good job to put a deal together that can put us in a better position to bring MLS to the world.”

For the league that exposure is invaluable because in addition to MLS games, a subscription also includes Leagues Cup matches along with MLS NEXT Pro and MLS Next. It will boost some of the younger talent coming through the ecosystem while also bringing in audiences from Mexico and Canada to propel momentum toward the 2026 World Cup.

From a production level, the access to top-notch technology will be a defining point on how they intend to distinguish themselves from the competition. Those details are still being ironed out, but there isn’t much concern about how it will look and eventually evolve over time.

“We’re on target, feeling really good about all aspects of the production,” Garber said. “I couldn’t be more excited about where we are. Got a lot of work to do but we’ll be ready at kickoff.”

Major League Soccer commissioner Don Garber, left, speaks next to Apple senior vice president of Services Eddy Cue during MLS soccer media day in San Jose, Calif., Tuesday, Jan. 10, 2023. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)
Major League Soccer commissioner Don Garber, left, speaks next to Apple senior vice president of Services Eddy Cue during MLS soccer media day in San Jose, Calif., Tuesday, Jan. 10, 2023. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu) (ASSOCIATED PRESS)

'Things change and happen fast'

As part of the MLS media and marketing tour, some of the league’s best players were roaming around the San Jose Convention Center. About 8 miles west in Cupertino, California, is Apple’s corporate headquarters. On a rainy Wednesday, about 40 of those players descended on Apple Park to soak in the occasion for MLS.

Garber and Cue stood in the middle of Steve Jobs Theater alongside Apple CEO Tim Cook and Brendan Hunt (aka Coach Beard from "Ted Lasso") as the players surrounded them. That moment itself illustrated the growth of the league. LAFC’s Kellyn Acosta represented the MLS Cup champs, Cristian Roldan was present for the CONCACAF Champions League-winning Seattle Sounders, and some global names such as Lorenzo Insigne, Javier "Chicharito" Hernandez and Xherdan Shaqiri.

There were also a bunch of players that had just been in Qatar for the World Cup, including Argentine champion Thiago Almada, who got a special shout out from the commissioner. Almada became the first active MLS player to win a World Cup.

“This league has aged exponentially different and faster than I think any of us fully expected, said Twellman, who is the New England Revolution’s all-time leading goal scorer. “I don’t think MLS gives itself enough credit from where the hell this thing has come from, truthfully.”

Longtime play-by-play announcer Bretos shared similar sentiments.

“I’m here as a broadcaster but I’m also here as somewhat of a historian in many other ways because I think to know where MLS is going you have to know where it has been,” he added.

The buzz across the board is palpable.

“They don’t necessarily need to jump into anything because of who they are as a company,” said Edu, who was a member of the 2010 U.S. World Cup team. “For them to say ‘yes we want to be involved with MLS and for 10 years’ to me that shows they see the value in this product, the growth that can happen with this league, and they want to be a part of that.”

It’s an ambitious project that they’re taking on but Apple knows a thing or two about taking risks.

“I want us to be reevaluating in 10 years saying ‘holy s***' let’s do this again, let’s take it to that next level yet again,” Edu said.

And that perhaps is what excites Apple the most — the ability to be at the forefront of something that can change the global landscape. The most popular sport in the world, one of the biggest companies in the world and a league hoping to be talked about among the best.

How success will be measured isn't entirely clear, but it certainly won’t be just by counting subscriptions. Cue sees it in tiers: feed the rabid soccer/MLS fans, entice the casual fan and try to convince the others. Within that lies some uncertainty, but that just ramps up the space to thrive because the blueprint is laid out, now they just have to construct.

Tucked in a meeting office on a busy afternoon in Cupertino, Cue makes sure to mention one final thing. Sixteen years ago, almost exactly to the date, was the announcement of the original iPhone.

“And look where we are now. Things change and happen fast.”

If history trends in the same direction, Apple and MLS will be just fine.