If you want to watch every Chicago Fire match next season, you’ll need to pop for another streaming service.
In a giant gamble, Major League Soccer has sold rights to all its matches to Apple as part of a 10-year deal. Every league match will be available–with no blackout restrictions–on a new MLS streaming service available in the Apple TV app. (In other words, this isn’t Apple TV+, where you go to watch Ted Lasso. This is a separate streaming service within Apple TV.)
“We want to make it easy to consume, whether they’re a fan of the Chicago Fire in Chicago, or they’re a fan of the Chicago Fire in another city or country,” MLS Commissioner Don Garber said during a news conference Tuesday.
As part of the deal, there will be some matches in front of the paywall on Apple TV, and some matches will be available on linear TV–perhaps ESPN. But every match, whether it’s being simulcast on linear TV or not, will be available in the Apple MLS package.
For MLS, it’s a huge gamble.
“We’re convinced this is where our fans are going, and this is where the business is going. We have the opportunity to do it before anybody else,” Garber said.
So what do we know? Let’s take a look:
- No more blackouts. Watch the Fire, or any other team, anywhere
- Simplicity: Every game available in one place
- Pre-game, halftime, and post-game programming available for every game
- A Red Zone-style whip around show every Saturday night, which could be as long as six hours
- Fire season ticket holders get a subscription included with their ticket package
- Some matches still on linear TV
- Fans can select a team’s local radio call as the match audio in a drop down menu. (Currently, the Fire don’t have a local radio call in English, only in Spanish)
- Apple has a massive financial incentive to treat MLS as a partner, and help promote the league
- Apple will stream locally-produced content (think the Fire’s No Little Plans series, or Ezra Hendrickson’s weekly news conferences).
- You’ll have to pay for yet another streaming service (no price details are available yet)
- No games on local TV, so no more WGN/CF97 Live broadcasts. It’ll be harder for new fans to “stumble” on a game and become a fan.
- Deal is geared toward younger fans, and fans already using Apple products. Some fans will think it’s not worth the trouble, when they can’t just turn on the TV and watch.
- Announce teams will be regional, and it’s unclear whether they’ll always be on site, or will be calling games off monitors
- Many announcers will lose their jobs (although we do expect Fire play-by-play man Tyler Terens to be a part of the new venture, nothing’s been announced yet).
The deal is worth a reported $250 million a season, which Garber would not confirm, but he did say MLS is looking at this differently than a traditional media rights deal.
“It’s a minimum guarantee, not a rights fee. This is a partnership we’re forming with Apple,” Garber said, stressing the company’s innovation of the music and news industries as reasons for optimism.
More than many other fanbases, Fire fans are ready for this. Prior to Joe Mansueto’s deal with WGN that began in 2020, fans had to pay to watch the Fire on ESPN+. Given that history, most die hard Fire fans will probably pay the subscription fee to watch their team play. But will this help the Fire–and the league, for that matter–grow? That’s the big question. Alex Campbell and I will talk a lot more about this on Wednesday’s CHGO Fire Podcast at 12:15 CT. Make sure you tune in on YouTube, or listen later wherever you get your podcasts!
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