Apple lands their first major sports package
A few months ago during a game, soon-to-retire Chicago Blackhawks broadcaster Pat Foley bemoaned the shift of sports from linear TV to streaming, pointing out the only way to watch the team’s next game was if you were an ESPN+ subscriber, as the NHL struck a deal last year with Disney for them and Hulu to stream as many as 75 exclusive games per season, meaning the only way to watch these games was to subscribe to both streamers, blocking regional sports networks and other local outlets from carrying the game.
Well, rest assured he won’t like this deal either.
During Apple’s presentation Tuesday unveiling the latest Macs and iPhones, there was “one other thing”: their streaming service Apple TV + acquired the rights to carry Major League Baseball on Friday nights. With the league and the players’ union finally agreeing on a new collective bargaining agreement after a 99-day lockout this week, Opening Day is scheduled for April 7 meaning the first Apple TV telecast would likely be the following day, April 8.
As part of the deal, Apple will have pre and post game shows surrounding the doubleheaders, and MLB Big Inning, a live nightly show with live look-ins and highlights, similar to what MLB Tonight does on MLB Network. And the doubleheaders will be exclusive to Apple – meaning no parallel broadcast from regional sports networks or local stations meaning if you’re not an Apple TV + subscriber, you’re out of luck unless you want to listen to the game on your local radio station. The Friday night baseball package is also being made available outside of the U.S. internationally in Australia, Canada (the same blackout rules apply to Rogers SportsNet if Apple has Toronto Blue Jays games), Brazil, Japan, Mexico, Puerto Rico, South Korea, and the United Kingdom.
Another perk for Apple TV Plus subscribers is access to a 24/7 livestream featuring classic games, news, highlights, and game replays. Apple is making Friday Night Baseball available to subscribers and non-subscribers for a “limited time”, meaning the first few weeks of the season before disappearing into the paywall.
This isn’t the only streaming avenue MLB is pursing as NBCUniversal’s Peacock is currently in negotiation for a package of their own. The traditional home for The Game Of The Week from the 1950s through the 1980s, NBC Sports hasn’t produced a MLB game since 2000. Peacock games would also be exclusive with no parallel linear TV broadcasts allowed with some games possibly starting as early as 10:30 a.m. CT.
Instead of peanuts and Cracker Jack, we’ll have to settle for hotcakes and sausage with coffee.
With the deals from Apple and Peacock, MLB will produce about $100 million of revenue per year, according to Forbes. Apple is paying $85 million for seven years and can opt out after the first one or two years of the deal. For the $85 million, $55 million comes from a flat rights fee and $30 million comes from advertising.
This latest deal signals a further move away from linear TV to streaming for sports. Starting in September, Amazon Prime will completely take over the Thursday Night Football package, though a feed for each team is being made available to broadcasters in their team’s home market at the insistence of the NFL. The aforementioned NHL struck last year has exclusive games on Hulu and ESPN Plus, and HBO Max is thinking of adding NHL games to its service as well, through sister Turner Sports. And more sports leagues are likely to follow suit.
Oddly enough, the MLS’ Chicago Fire was one of the first teams to eschew a traditional TV deal for one with ESPN + back in 2018, only to return to linear TV two years later with a WGN-TV deal after the Nexstar station lost rights to the pro teams they were carrying.
It is understandable why fans – especially older viewers – are upset with the move to premium streaming especially when they’re already paying for a cable subscription on top of it. But this where TV is going now, and there’s no stopping it. Returning to the Blackhawks, fans had to resort to radio to listen to home games when they were blacked out on TV, so if there’s a game you want to see and you don’t want to pony up for Apple or Hulu…well, you might want to drag the ol’ boombox out.