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Ship's Log, Dec. 8: Reviewing Year 1 of MLS on Apple TV

After a year of MLS on Apple TV some things were good and some things need to change.

Last Updated
5 min read
Adam Cairns-USA TODAY Sports

When MLS announced that it was partnering with AppleTV to carry all of their games, it was seen as a landmark deal. In many ways, it delivered on the big promises. The quality of the video was consistently high; the production looked modern and expensive; and there was never any question about where to find games.

But, as you might remember, the whole thing came together rather quickly. You might even say it was a rush to the finish line, which showed in a lot of the details. The broadcasts themselves suffered from inconsistent announcers, directors who never seemed to dial in the appropriate use of replays and there was a general sense that MLS wasn't breaking through to audiences the way we all want it to.

With a full season now to review, here are some of my pros and cons, as well as what I'd like to see moving forward:


The video quality was high: I was pretty skeptical when they promised that every game would be broadcast in 1080p, but as far as I could tell they delivered. The video was sharp and the sound was great, especially if you had it on surround sound.

Dedicated programming: One thing that always felt lacking in terms of MLS coverage whether it was on ESPN, NBC or Fox was that no matter how good of a job they did with the games that was really all there was. Put aside your feelings about the specifics, just having shows like MLS 360 and MLS Wrap was a huge improvement. These felt like proper studio shows where the hosts seemed engaged and generally pretty knowledgeable.

We always knew where to find games: This was the most basic promise and there wasn't ever much doubt they'd deliver, but let's not downplay its importance. As long as you knew what time the game was on, you knew how to find it.

: For all my complaining this year about announcers, it should be said that Apple legitimately discovered some talents too. At the top of my list is Sacha Kljestan who was a remarkably polished studio analyst for someone who just retired from playing. I was also impressed by the on-screen presence Andrew Wiebe and Matt Doyle, who had previously done mostly podcasting before getting to see this stage. All three benefit from being passionate about the subject while talking at a very relatable level.


Inconsistent production: In one very obvious and recent example, viewers missed Albert Rusnák's winning goal in the FC Dallas playoff game because the director felt compelled to show multiple replays of what was ultimately a meaningless header. I'm sure other goals were missed throughout the year, which is frankly inexcusable. But more broadly the directors didn't really seem to have a good sense of how to use replays or when to switch cameras, often lingering on faces, failing to give us better looks of controversial calls or, yes, missing big moments. I don't know if this is a director problem or something else, but cameras also seemed to be poorly placed. Way too often we'd get a close offside call or a goal-line clearance and not have a good angle to assess, something that even impacted VAR.

Announcer quality was all over the map: There were a lot of good voices who seemed well prepared in the booths, but there were also a lot of guys who seemed like they were just winging it, too. Interestingly, a lot of the worst offenders were some of the more established voices. I won't go too hard on any specific announcers here, but let's just say that they were some of the same folks who called World Cup games. Generally speaking, I got the sense that agents played as big of a role in getting the gigs as actual talent evaluators.

Too easy to ignore: I'm very much in a soccer bubble so I never felt this, but a lot of feedback I heard from fans was that no one in their friend-group seemed to be paying attention. I'm not sure how to really assess that, but we know the games weren't on TV nearly as much as they were before, so this does make sense. I also suspect adoption on so-called "third-places" was also pretty low, even though bars could get the MLS Season Pass package for just $100/year.


More flexibility in scheduling: The single biggest complaint I heard about the Apple broadcasts was that as much as fans liked the idea of predictable kickoff times, in practice this went too far. If you went to a game in person, there was a very good chance that would be the only game you could watch all week because the games almost all kicked off in a three-hour window on Saturday night. MLS absolutely needs to have more games outside that window.

Improved game-specific shoulder-programming: While there were previews and short announcer-led postgame shows, they always felt oddly disconnected from the main broadcast. There was nothing that took the place of the pre- and postgame show Sounders fans were accustomed to, for instance. I'd love a dedicated studio element to accompany all games, maybe even including standup interviews or streams of press conferences.

Use the road radio calls: Having the home radio call as an option for the alternate audio was a good first step, but most stream viewers are probably fans of the road team and we never got that radio call. I have no idea how hard it is to include that, but I think that would be a massive improvement. While we're at it, improving the audio quality of both radio feeds would also be useful.

Better use of the resources they have: One thing I think we can all agree on is the MLS broadcasts at least look expensive. I have no doubt that a lot of money is being spent, which suggests the people in charge know this is important to get right. With more time to plan, my hope is they are aggressive in terms of improving all of these things.

  • Jeremiah
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