from the slow-but-steady dept
I have talked for years at Techdirt about how the cord cutting trend, while still continuing, was going to run into a wall due to the way that major sports broadcasts have always been done through cable TV deals. I have also covered the steps, baby or otherwise, different sports leagues and teams have taken to embrace streaming options. MLB’s MLB.tv service has always been great, but suffers from local blackout rules revolving around broadcast rights. Other leagues have worked out their own streaming options, mostly in very limited fashion. One MLS team even went streaming only for its games, cutting the cord from its end.
Speaking of Major League Soccer, while it certainly isn’t the most popular sports league in America, that league is making a giant leap forward for streaming. MLS recently announced that every single one of its games, completely sans any blackout rules, will be streaming on Apple TV for the next decade.
Apple claims that viewers “around the world” can “watch all MLS, Leagues Cup, and select MLS NEXT Pro and MLS NEXT matches in one place—without any local broadcast blackouts or the need for a traditional pay TV bundle.”
This will all be part of a “new MLS streaming service” that will become available in early 2023, with matches offered up through 2032. It will offer both live and on-demand video.
Now, is this going to make cable companies nervous? If they have a couple of brain cells to rub together, yes! Again, MLS is not the NFL, MLB, or the NBA. Or even the NHL. But it’s not some fly by night league, either, and this is a major move into the streaming market. And the real thing that’s going to keep cable company executives up at night should be the potential that MLS has any serious success with this move. If viewership in the league jumps as a result of this sudden new availability to stream games, you can bet other, larger leagues are going to take note.
Apple and MLS have done something notable here. With the NFL currently negotiating with a handful of streaming services for its out-of-market Sunday Ticket service and the NCAA’s Big Ten Conference in the process of selling off its next media rights package, the next big deal may end up cutting out cable altogether. According to John Ourand at Sports Business Journal, Apple is paying somewhere in the neighborhood of $2.5 billion over the 10 years of this agreement. That’s chump change for Apple… and Amazon… and Google.
Today’s announcement heralds the beginning of the end of the traditional way sports in the US are packaged for broadcast. When live, out-of-market sports are no longer the solely to be found on cable, cord-cutting is going to accelerate, much to the dismay of the regional sports networks—and even ESPN.
As predicted for some time now. The dam that is live sports may finally be starting to break, with this MLS deal being the first crack. If other leagues follow suit in any reasonable timeframe — say, in the next 5-10 years — cord cutting is going to become a tidal wave.