The latest news about Apple TV's new MLS Season Pass has me rethinking the unthinkable. Today, I had a bizarre thought: Apple might turn me into a soccer fan.
I hate to be a stereotypical "ugly American," but soccer (i.e. non-American football) has never ever been able to dig its claws into my brain. I'm not a regular season sports fan, but I can always find myself pulled into playoffs season for the NBA, the MLB and even the NFL.
But Apple's doing something new and impressive with Major League Soccer, and its new MLS Season Pass (which is discounted if you have Apple TV Plus, one of the best streaming services) is the kind of stuff most sports fans would love. It's even got me thinking about tuning in on opening day. Yes, for the first time ever, I'm aware of the MLS opening day.
Why am even I interested in giving MLS a try, despite my previous disinterest? Well, I've got friends who go to MLS games all the time, and it's always just sat there as a peculiar curiosity. I know it's not the biggest soccer/futbol league in the world, but Apple's creating an itch in my brain — especially since they're going to give us the first taste for free.
So, I thought I'd break down why Apple's getting this right.
Apple's MLS Season Pass offers everything, everywhere all at just the right time
Apple's big, comprehensive deal with MLS, scheduled to go 10 years, is a sports fan's dream. Having written about how to watch sports online here at Tom's Guide, I'm more than aware about the issues with finding your favorite team's games. Major leagues have their own big services for those who want to pay a premium, but even those are subject to blackouts.
Apple's MLS Season Pass, though, is built different. Apple will offer every single live MLS regular-season match, as well as the playoffs and Leagues Cup. All without blackouts, and available around the world. And, don't go thinking you need an Apple device for these games, just because they're on Apple. The Apple TV app is found on most of (if not all) the best streaming devices, including Roku, Fire TV, Android TV, Xbox and PlayStation, as well as smart TVs from Samsung, Vizio, LG and Sony.
That takes care of most of the how to watch. On top of that, I won't have to think to find my local team's matches. Games begin at 7:30 p.m. local time every Saturday night. And I don't have any plans for February 25th, opening night.
There, with a serious and comprehensive plan, Apple's created a zero-excuses plan to bring people in. And it's going to make opening day available for free (provided you have an Apple ID, which is free). But I've known about all of that for weeks now. What makes this even more interesting is how Apple's packaging it all together.
Apple's MLS Season Pass comes with its own version of SportsCenter
The news that has me excited, though is Apple's trio of live, supporting content that will air before, during and after MLS games (all of which will air in 1080p, an upgrade from the mix of 720p and 1080i streams from the past). There's the MLS Countdown pre-shows, and the MLS Wrap-Up post show that closes out every night. But MLS 360, arguably the most important of these shows, is a 5-hour whiparound show.
MLS 360 is basically going to be your live guide to the entire day in MLS action. Not only will they have every goal from the games, but they'll be doing their best to cut to the action so you can see goals scored live. The hosts broadcasting from Apple's studio will break it all down for you, along the way, and debate about all of the day's action.
For me, a complete and utter novice, this is the kind of packaging that makes a ton of sense. Say, for some reason, my local clubs (New York City FC and the New York Red Bulls) both have boring or disinteresting opening nights. I can just swing on the MLS 360 and get a macro-view of the entire league.
I doubt any sports fan wouldn't want the same for their league. And it doesn't cost a ton either, with the entire league available for $15 per month or $99 per season. Apple TV Plus subscribers, as I've mentioned, will get a discounted rate of $12.99 per month or $79 per season.
Outlook: This is what watching sports online should be like
Years of TV and streaming rights being sold to various different distributors and channels have meant Apple's vision for streaming is next to impossible for any other league. But it's just the kind of offer that should be available, in a moment where ratings are on the decline across the board.
Right now, following your favorite sports team can be a unique hell. You're either stuck with cable, or paying for a multitude of services. And that's before more recent news such as Fubo TV adding Regional Sports Fees at the last second during checkout.
It seems like Apple and Major League Soccer are particularly unique partners for all of this, and that's why I'm a little excited to give MLS a chance this month.