MLS Season Pass Pricing

It’s really cool that Apple found a sports league with an unencumbered portfolio of rights, to be able to strike a universal first-of-its-kind all-in streaming package with worldwide availability, no restrictions and blackouts. Fair credit to MLS too: the league thought ahead and purposefully organised its subordinate partners to make this a possibility; they were instructed to ensure all existing broadcast rights deals expired at the end of the 2022 season, so they could present a comprehensive unified offering to a streaming service. Apple bought in.

Rather than have games start at different times on different days spread across various channels, it will now be possible to pay for one subscription and watch every game live, or on-demand. The synchronisation of start times (7.30 pm local, Saturdays or Wednesdays) also allows Apple to offer a hosted whip-around show commentating highlights across all the games happening at once.

I do have some doubts about the pricing model. MLS Season Pass is priced at $14.99 per month, or $99 per season (discounted to $79 for Apple TV+ subscribers). This is a cost-effective offering if the customer is interested in watching most of the games. Soccer super fans do exist, and this will be great for them.

However, I’d wager most people only care about their local team. In that context, shelling out $99 a year for interest in watching one team (comprising at most two games a week) feels expensive. Previously, local regional networks would broadcast them available as part of a standard cable package, or you could see the games on something like ESPN — a channel that airs a plethora of different sports, not just soccer.

A slight wrinkle to this equation is that some percentage of games will be available to Apple TV+ subscribers without paying for the pass. Exactly how many is still unclear. Although Apple shared the MLS 2023 schedule yesterday, it did not designate which games will be in front of the paywall. A leaked plan from earlier this year suggested it could be as high as 40% of games, which I reckon would be a decent substitute for the old model of ‘free’ regional network broadcasting availability.

A team-friendly perk is that all club stadium season ticket holders will also get a subscription to MLS Season Pass included at no extra charge. What a nice thing to do. But it does reduce further the potential pool of super fans who would be interested in paying $99 to watch all the games in the first place.

Nevertheless, my understanding is Apple has the contractual freedom to adjust pricing as it sees fit. This is a ten year deal and they aren’t necessarily going to nail it first time. So, if the announced pricing structure underperforms, there’s room for product changes, like perhaps the introduction of a cheaper single team pass (maybe $50 a season?) or bundling it with something like Apple One Premier.