MLS and Apple agree to landmark global rights deal

The United States’ premier football competition Major League Soccer (MLS) has found a new broadcasting home from next season and beyond with technology giants Apple.

Making their first foray into live football broadcasting, Apple have struck a long-term global partnership with Major League Soccer (MLS) worth a reported US$250 million ($360 million AUD) per year.

After moving for a package of Major League Baseball, Apple has made their biggest sports rights acquisition to date by signing a 10-year partnership with MLS to show all matches across the world via the Apple TV streaming platform.

The agreement runs through until the end of the 2032 campaign and will see every match offered through a new MLS-dedicated subscription streaming service available exclusively through the Apple TV app. The over-the-top (OTT) offering will also include a weekly live whiparound show, full-match replays, highlights, analysis, and other original programming. A number of MLS Next Pro and MLS Next developmental tier matches will also be on the platform.

A broad selection of MLS and Leagues Cup matches, including some of the biggest matchups, will also be available at no additional cost to Apple TV+ subscribers, with a limited number of matches available for free. Access to the new MLS streaming service will also be included as part of full-season ticket packages.

According to the Sports Business Journal (SBJ), MLS is also negotiating with ESPN and Fox around a linear domestic package of non-exclusive matches. In addition, SBJ report that Apple is not paying a straight fee, with the US$250 million per year figure being a minimum annual guarantee that will be topped up with revenue as Apple sell subscriptions for the streaming service.

MLS commissioner Don Garber believes that Apple TV will provide the catalyst for the ever-improving competition to grow even further.

“This (partnership) sort of seems like a bit of the icing on the cake,” Garber told the PA news agency.

“We really have been very focused on building a league that we all can be proud of, that could become one of the top leagues in the world, that could show fans here and globally that America, North America, are soccer markets.

“And now with a global opportunity to build a fan base with the leader in global product and global technology and global innovation, it’s going to allow us to expand beyond our borders.

“This gives us the ability to participate not only in the global market for players but on the global market for fans, and that any game, anytime, anywhere without restrictions really is the rocket fuel that’s going to get us to that point.

“So, it is the perfect sort of end to the previous beginning and gives us a new sort of journey towards the World Cup and beyond.”

Garber said MLS is “very pleased with the financials” of a deal that, among other things, will allow for an improved schedule, better quality broadcasts and see season ticket holders at the clubs receive a subscription.

This is just Apple’s second rights deal for live sports, having acquired a package with Major League Baseball in March, but they have achieved great success in football with their comedy-drama Ted Lasso.

FIFPRO Asia/Oceania report of AFC Champions League assesses the cost of competition for players and clubs

FIFPRO Asia/Oceania has published a report on key financial findings from the Asian Football Confederation’s (AFC) flagship club competition, the AFC Champions League (ACL).

The report, AFC Champions League Analysis Report: Counting the cost for players and clubs, was produced alongside sporting intelligence agency Twenty First Group (TFG).

This analysis is in response to the announcement of AFC Champions League Elite (ACLE) commencing in July this year, as revealed by the AFC in December 2022.

Based on TFG’s analysis, insights and feedback from participating players and clubs, the report addresses the feasibility of running ACLE with key factors including on-field quality and competitive balance, attendances and fan engagement, economics for clubs and players, travel and workload, competition design, and football development outcomes.

The research undertaken focusses on the value of introducing ACLE, based on the current operations of the ACL.

“This report analyses the merits and drawbacks of the current AFC Champions League based on various data and the results indicate that the merits do not outweigh the drawbacks for most players and clubs, making it an unsustainable system,” FIFPRO Asia/Oceania Chair Takuya Yamazaki outlines in the report.

“However, this does not mean that the future of football in Asia is bleak. On the contrary, we believe that this economically significant region can lead a discussion for truly sustainable competition formats.”

The report is the most comprehensive public analysis of the ACL and includes recommendations for what the AFC should be implementing.

“For players, the development of competitions is central to their employment conditions and future opportunities. As its primary workforce, the players are determined to play their role to shape a sustainable and innovation-driven future for the football sector in Asia,” Yamazaki added.

World Leagues Forum is involved in representing professional football leagues on a global level. General Secretary Jerome Perlemuter explained that collaboration between all stakeholders in the Asian region would help shape and deliver sustainable competitions.

“FIFPRO’s contribution to shaping the future of Asian continental competitions is most welcome,” Perlemuter said.

“Sustainable football development requires confederations, leagues and players to work together with a common objective to shape high potential continental competitions in a consistent global calendar. In this context, it is important to consider economic, geographical and cultural specificities. We look forward to continuing these discussions with FIFPRO and all stakeholders.”

To see the report in full, you can do so here.

Wellington Phoenix team up with Chinese outfit Tianjin Tiger

Wellington Phoenix have partnered with Chinese Super League team Tianjin Tiger to boost football growth in both nations.

As part of the Wellington Phoenix Tianjin Tiger Sister City Friendship, the clubs have agreed to hold an annual encounter between their men’s first teams.

The inaugural Wellington Phoenix F.C. vs. Tianjin Tiger F.C. Sister City Shield match is set to take place in Tianjin this September, with the second in Wellington next year.

The strategic collaboration was formed after Phoenix general manager David Dome visited Tianjin in September as part of a business delegation headed by Wellington Mayor Tory Whanau.

The club hosted a delegation from Tianjin, and the two sides signed the Memorandum of Understanding at the Mayor’s office.

Phoenix general manager David Dome was thrilled with the partnership going through.

“The mayoral delegation to China last year was invaluable and I’m thrilled about this partnership with Tianjin Jinmen Tiger, which will be of benefit to the club on multiple levels,” he said via press release.

“Not only will the men get to play a Chinese Super League side as part of their A-League pre-season each year, but the academy will soon benefit from an influx of footballers from Tianjin.

“We’re looking to grow our academy to have an international component and Tianjin Jinmen have committed to sending some young players to Wellington to attend training camps in July and we’re discussing the possibility of their juniors being part of a new international academy annual programme.

“International students are essential for the secondary and tertiary education sector in Wellington and we are evaluating how an elite international academy focused on football can be part of New Zealand’s international education offering.”

Wellington mayor Tory Whanau added that the city is excited about the opportunity. 

“I’d like to congratulate David Dome and the wider team for the work they’ve done on this MoU,” he stated via press release.

“I’m beyond stoked that the delegation last September has resulted in this MoU between the Wellington Phoenix and Tianjin Jinmen Tiger. 

“The development opportunities for both the clubs will be invaluable to not only football but also our cities.”

The Phoenix are enjoying a successful A-league campaign where they currently sit top of the table 18 games into the season.

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