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Can MLS deliver on the big promises of the Apple deal?

Losing ESPN and Univision is not a promising development.

Last Updated
3 min read

What should be the last big piece of the MLS-Apple partnership fell into place on Tuesday when it was announced that Fox Sports was the only linear TV carrier of MLS regular-season and playoff games in both English and Spanish. They’ll carry 34 regular-season games and 8 playoff games. Of those, about half are apparently going to be carried on big Fox, with the others on FS1 and Fox Deportes will carry everything in Spanish. Both will be covering about a dozen Leagues Cup matches as well.

Perhaps the bigger element of that news is who isn’t included. ESPN won’t be carrying any MLS games and Univision will only carry about 20 Leagues Cup matches. Those have been BY FAR the most important and biggest TV partners MLS has had throughout its existence, and have been part of the league basically ever since the beginning. Both channels have much larger audiences than Fox, are generally much more highly regarded in terms of their production value and, maybe most importantly, they are seen as leaders in terms of their general sports coverage, from which MLS gets an ancillary benefit.

It’s not entirely clear why ESPN and Univision weren’t willing to sign on as they had previously been rumored to be interested, but one report suggested that Apple wanted all the broadcasts to carry their branding. That came on top of MLS and Apple’s insistence that there be no blackouts on the streaming deal, and you can see why the two carriers might not be that interested.

While all of that is bad news in terms of making games more accessible for casual fans, my understanding is that Fox will merely be the delivery device on the broadcasts. MLS is planning to produce all games, which I assume means they’ll also be providing the announcers. I suspect many of those announcers will be the familiar faces who were calling various local and national broadcasts previously, but they shouldn’t be the exact same crews that Fox was using.

Of greater concern, I think, is the state of MLS’s production. Best I can tell, hiring has finally started, but it is nowhere near complete. Quite a few announcers who participated in the interview process still haven’t heard back one way or another. Considering their first broadcasts are supposed to start in about 10 weeks, that’s not a lot of runway.

Considering MLS is hoping fans will be willing to pay a premium to get this service, there’s going to be a ton of pressure on them to actually deliver.

The risks aside, I at least appreciate that MLS is trying something different. For all the criticism they’ve received for mostly abandoning “free” TV, the reality is that their viewership numbers had pretty much stagnated. This at least gives them a path to growth, assuming they can deliver on some of their big promises.

What’s going on with the Club World Cup?

The Club World Cup is apparently going to happen in early February, but we still don’t have anything official confirming that. The latest report is FIFA has told Real Madrid that it will happen Feb. 1-11 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. That would make a ton of sense as they also hosted the previous Club World Cup as well as several others before that.

Ballard FC is going for it

This is mostly a Sounders newsletter but I wanted to give a shoutout to Ballard FC who continues to go big on their kit designs. I won’t pretend as if their latest kit is something I plan to wear, but I love the idea of just handing over design to local artists and letting them get creative.

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