For Pete's Sake

So far, the Apple deal has been a bust for MLS fans

Photo: Marjorie Elzey

Eight games into the deal, and I’m sick of MLS Season Pass on Apple TV.

The league’s ten-year, $2.5 billion deal with the technology giant kicked in at the start of the season with a promise to transform the viewing experience and to take the league to the next level. And it’s entirely possible that it will over time — the most important part of the deal, the massive infusion of cash into the league, won’t affect the product on the pitch immediately.

But so far, it’s kind of sucked.

Disclaimer: As an influential member of the media, the fine folks at Apple sent me a free year of MLS Season Pass, as well as some fine swag. As you should be able to tell from this piece, these gestures have not compromised my objectivity.

On time and on schedule

Start with the schedule. In order to make the deal sweeter to Apple (among other reasons), MLS created the Leagues Cup, for which the regular season will pause for a month over the summer for a tournament with Liga MX.

Reserving judgment about whether or not the Leagues Cup is a good idea or ends up being pretty fun, the knock-on effect is that MLS’s regular season kicked off at the end of February, with MLS Cup set for early December, with few other pauses along the way.

From a Union perspective, that’s meant a slate of home games that have been miserable from a weather perspective. The opener was freezing. The second game, against Chicago, was freezing and windy. The game against Kansas City was delayed by thunderstorms.

And the only early game with half-decent weather — against Orlando — saw the Union missing huge chunks of their lineup because the league barreled straight through an international break.

Obviously, some of that is out of the league’s hands. But some of it isn’t. News flash: it’s not particularly pleasant to be outside at nighttime in February in the Northeast. (Just as it isn’t particularly pleasant to play soccer on the green concrete carpet at Montreal’s Olympic Stadium, where the Union suffered their second loss of the season.)

Why are these games being played at night? You can thank Apple for that one, too. In an effort to create consistent broadcast windows — and volume for Apple’s biggest idea, a “whiparound” show called MLS 360 — almost every game is scheduled for Saturday at 7:30 p.m. local time, save for maybe one game a week that’s in a different window for linear TV.

There are just a few obvious problems here. First, stacking every single MLS game into the same time slot makes it difficult to watch much more than one game. If you’re locked into a Union game at 7:30 (or any other team with an East Coast matchup), you’re not watching any of the eight other kickoffs at 7:30, or the group that goes at 8:30. And, ironically, it makes it harder for you to watch the whip-around show, because you’re busy watching your team’s game.

I am probably in the top, what, 2% of people who care about MLS? I’ve written hundreds of thousands of words about the league over my time at PSP. And I’m watching less MLS than I ever have before, because the games are all on at the same time. I’ve barely watched a minute or two of the much-ballyhooed whip-around show. That can’t be the result the league is looking for.

Second, the standardized start time limits flexibility for fans and teams. Although the Saturday night time slot has its advantages, there are also lots of fans who prefer early or late afternoon kickoffs. If you have young kids, is it optimal to take them to a game where you won’t even leave the parking lot after 10 p.m.? Mixing it up would expand the group of people who can easily attend a game, plus allow some flexibility for dealing with difficult weather conditions such as the freezing cold nights early in the season.

There’s a reason why the Phillies play some of their Saturday games at 1 p.m. or 4 p.m. If it works for the national pastime, why can’t it work for MLS?

Production values

It’s still early to be commenting on the technical side of things, but that’s been a disappointment, too.

The most important part of any sports production on TV is capturing all of the action, and that’s where Apple has fallen short so far.

Too often, the producers cut away to seemingly random shots of the crowd, or unnecessary closeups, or replays at exactly the wrong time. Even the main cameras seem weirdly inconsistent — sometimes making the players look like ants, other times not capturing enough of the field.

The announcers have also been hit-and-miss. While the idea of national broadcasters for every game isn’t a bad one, it is a sin that the league couldn’t find a way to get legendary, seasoned pros like JP Dellacamera involved. Instead, the quality of the commentary fluctuates wildly, with some teams either totally unfamiliar with both teams or clearly more familiar with the team they used to cover (see: Montreal).

There’s talent in the commentary booth, but right now it hasn’t come through.

And the league has even fallen short on the most important thing — keeping the service going during the five hours per week that the games are going on. Season Pass crashed in the middle of the broadcast window this past weekend, cutting fans off from their games at the most inopportune time. These things happen, but it’s still a deeply frustrating experience.

It’s not all bad. The quality of the picture is very good, the graphics are clean and attractive, and the option to overlay the home team’s radio call is a nice reprieve. One hopes the production and commentary will improve with time.

But so far, it’s been a letdown.

Where to?

There is plenty of time for MLS and Apple to make changes, big and small, that would improve the experience.

Move more games into more windows. Figure out how to build a schedule that respects international breaks and gives players appropriate rest. Improve the production values.

There’s little reason to think that any of these things are locked in for the entirety of this deal. And the length of the deal means that it’s in both entities’ best interests to work together as partners, rather than having one side dictating to the other.

But the fear is that the most important group in all of this — the fans — are the group that doesn’t have a seat at the table.

So far, it’s not clear that this partnership has measurably improved the fan experience.


  1. Johnny Ostentatious says:

    I’m unimpressed by the announcers — have been putting it on mute and listen to music. Kinda annoying they show the scores while a game is going on . . . I’ll have to see if that can be removed.

    • It can, go into your settings for Apple TV and turn off show scores near the bottom of the page. I too found this super annoying at first, I feel like this should be off from the start with the option to turn it off, not the opposite.

      • Sort of. It can only be removed if you are using an iPhone, iPad, or have an Apple TV device. You cannot hide the scores if you are an Android user, and that is a crime.

  2. What is incredibly annoying is that the final score is shown for Past Matches.

  3. Janet Owen says:

    My handicapped husband and I are in our 80’s and we have been Timbers soccer fans since the 1980’s. (We were season ticket holders for many years.) When we moved to NC, we still checked on them.. Now we have moved back to OR and attended a few games. NOW since Apple has taken over, we can only get glimpses of the games on the local tv stations. So, sad not to be a part of the games anymore. Premier soccer from England keeps is in the game but we miss our Timbers!

  4. I do now subscribe to Apple TV. However I have not purchased the MLS Ticket and don’t plan to. I am going to choose between the 5 free MLS matches and with any luck the free one will be FCDallas. With the added cost of Apple TV I probably won’t even go to a match in person this year. Typically I like to buy a small ticket group of tickets that allows me to go to a couple of matches. I won’t do that this year. Maybe MLS should be less of a priority in my life?

  5. FCDelco dude says:

    Haven’t seen a game all season after watching probably 75% of them last year in the tele if I couldn’t attend. My family and I had season tix for 10 years…. Gave them up during covid. We’re a soccer family but I’m not willing to pay extra and sign up for more shit just to watch a mediocre, at best, product. MLS f’d this one up. So many people will never view their league because of an extremely short sighted decision.

    • John P. O'Donnell says:

      This post makes no sense. Last year you watched 75% and this year it’s mediocre at best product. Troll

      • I feel the same way as him. am I a troll? I have not been able to watch a single game cause of this greedy executive decision. his comment makes complete sense to someone with critical thought. sharpen your tool

      • Brian Gsell says:

        I watched last year too a ton!! I’m a huge Timbers fan that lives in Eugene. This apple stuff stinks. Thanks a bunch MLS! It’s always about money. Total BS.

  6. Jim Watson says:

    I don’t have Apple TV and have no plans to buy another a Revs fan but guess I’ll miss every game this season though I caught just about every game last year…

  7. Stop whining. Get a bigger TV too. That should take care of your “players looking like ants” issue. . Ohhh I can’t watch them all live cause they on at the same time. Ohh noo! Wait, u also say u don’t like soccer. Make up your mind.

  8. Apple TV should be banmed from broadcasting any sporting event.
    It appears as though no one involved in the production of MLS pass has ever participated in or watched an athletic event.
    I used to be able to watch my local team play over the air without an additional cost (I subsidize SKC by paying sales/property taxes so they can get unfair tax breaks). A private company has now purchased the TV rights to the team I subsidize & they are charging me to watch them play. The only reason I am still a viewer this season is because I got MLS pass as a promo. I have no intention of paying apple to watch MLS games in the future. The price being charged for a mediocre league (relatively speaking to EPL/Bundesliga/Italian serie A/etc…) is not sustainable.

    The MLS has made great improvements in the quality of play in the past 5 years. It would be extremely unfortunate for Apple TV to directly reduce the number of viewers, revenue the league produces and overall make the league worse off than it was in 2022. Thanks for nothing overvalued and over compensated execs at big tech. Please go find another sport(or way of life) to ruin. Leave the MLS alone (assuming there is still a league in 2024).

  9. Billy Willen says:

    I am sick of hearing all these crying babies comments. If they do not want to watch MLS let them go watch what they want.
    I am glad we have Apple. I specially enjoy the 4 picture comments.
    The only problem I have on the Android/Comcast system is the interruptions from time to time. I talked to someone at Apple, but they could not help me. Does anyone know what the problem is?

    • Eric Boyle says:

      So, you are sick of the complaints and then proceed to complain about interruptions, ok then.

      The Union away game last week was nearly unwatchable for me because of the interruptions. I have an Xfinity streaming box and yet I can watch EPL on Peacock with no problem.

  10. Why can’t Apple and the MLS do what NBC and the Premier League does and just offer the games without an extra pay wall. I would willing buy Apple TV if the MLS was included with it. This subscription on top of a discount subscription just seems like an unnecessary money grab for subpar content

  11. Great article. 100% agree about the game times why not have a 1pm 4pm and then a few at 7:30. I don’t mind paying for the league pass but would like to watch more than 1 game each week.

  12. Apple ANYTHING…2 thumbs enthusiastically pointing straight DOWN!!!

  13. So soccer is now the only major sport whose local team you cannot watch on regular TV,
    or even cable. The sport which is the great leveler in terms of socioeconomic status. You think poor folks are gonna shell out money for apple TV, and then more cash for the MLS package? They have been shut out because of pure greed. I refuse to buy it.

    • Two things. Union game was on regular TV today, and also free on Apple TV app. You do not need to shell out money for Apple TV before getting MLS Season Pass. Apple TV app itself is free. You’re thinking of Apple TV+ which is not required to watch MLS

  14. Kate Phillips says:

    The quality of the product is not a big concern for me, as every startup is going to have some glitches when they first start out. My beef is that Apple One doesn’t include it in their subscription. We’re already paying a big chunk for that, and then add this on top of the Apple One subscription? I can’t even watch my home team half the time because it’s a subscription game. I gave up.

  15. Bill Marshall says:

    Apple TV is worse move MLS could have made Its totally overpriced My favorite sport bar in Minneapolis the manager told me NO WAY THEY WILL HAVE GAMES ON ANYMORE BECAUSE OF APPLE TV DEAL PS I’m a big MLS soccer fan Have seen 7 MLS Cup game’s in person But won’t be going to ANYMORE because of MLS owner’s unbelievable greed

  16. I subscribe to AppleTV, but they wanted me to pay on top of that for MLS coverage. NO. I live in the Philly suburbs and love the Union club, but it is difficult for me to get to games. I’d love to watch them on TV, but I am already paying too much. Forget it, fan lost and frustrated.

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