By Mike Rice.
The Premier League is the most lucrative football league in the world. It is the home to some of the biggest stars in world football, like Cristiano Ronaldo and Mohamed Salah; as well as hiring some of the most impressive and forward-thinking managers like Pep Guardiola, Jurgen Klopp and Thomas Tuchel.
Major League Soccer, meanwhile, has seen its league attracting more attention with bigger names from world football being drawn to the league each year. Most recently, Gareth Bale and Giorgio Chiellini joined LAFC making them favourites for the MLS Cup with many bookies – such as the Borgata online sportsbook. While Lorenzo Insigne rocked up with his Italian friends in Toronto making them an outside bet for the playoffs after a poor start. On top of these, Wayne Rooney has taken over as the head coach of D.C. United and hopes to revive their fortunes.
With soccer being the most widely watched sport in the world, MLS is determined to challenge and compete with the European Leagues, knowing it can work towards the resources that a number of the others currently operate with.
Attendances are lower on average in MLS than Premier League matches. The league average in MLS is around 15,000 per game with an average price of $45-50 dollars per spectator. Each side plays a minimum of 17 home games per year which would bring an approximate annual revenue of around $11.5 -$13 million per season.
The Premier League draws in an average of more than double MLS stadiums, with 2021/22 season seeing an average of more than 39,000 per match across the league. This obviously varies dramatically amongst clubs with Brentford FC having a capacity of 17,250 and Manchester United’s Old Trafford stadium holding nearly 75,000. Should Premier League sides charge the same price as MLS clubs, they would still bring in on average more than twice as much income just through gate receipts alone per season.
In the 2019/20 season, 3.2 billion people watched Premier League matches around the world according to a study carried out EY financial services. The Premier League has a United States television deal worth $450 million annually over a period of six years. In contrast to this, MLS is currently under a deal which is worth $90 million, just over $3 million per club. Alongside the television income, at the end of 2021, MLS approximate revenue was around $1 billion per year.
Apple TV has seen an increase in attention to the league and decided to invest a minimum of $2.5 billion in a deal to stream games live from the start of the 2023 season. This investment from Apple is a big statement for how the league has been progressing in viewership and attention around the world and they have locked in to a 10-year deal that has shaken up the media landscape surrounding MLS.
MLS’s exclusive negotiating window with ESPN, Fox Sports and Univision ended last summer and Apple took full advantage of opening negotiations as soon as they could.
“Apple really started to differentiate themselves and show a commitment that was at a level that was very much aligned with our vision of the product sort of late winter and things got focused from there” said New England Revolution investor/operator Jonathan Kraft.
Matches in the 2021 MLS season averaged 384,000 viewers in the United States. Apple is looking to build on the attention of big names coming into the league by providing a consistent schedule in partnership with MLS and to ensure that the league is easier to view across the world.
It is clear that media rights have been too small a part of the revenue make up for MLS in its history. Competing with the Premier League as well as other domestic sports like NFL and NBA, has seen smaller growth in viewership while the league has expanded each season, adding more expansion sides with its aim of reaching a 30-team league.
Apple will now broadcast every game, all around the world in order to grow the sport and make it a better product for soccer fans. It is looking to follow a similar path as the Premier League in managing the television rights of the league and building the product in a more centralised fashion.
Prior to the 2022 season, MLS was not in a good place with its local TV rights, and only four sides generated revenue from this; Los Angles Galaxy, Seattle Sounders, Chicago Fire and New York City FC.
All clubs were told that any local broadcasting rights must not extend past the end of the 2022 season, this deal with Apple is something that MLS has been working towards for some time. Aligning all viewing rights has given MLS a chance to explore greater partnerships, put themselves in a strategic position to take advantage of a growing product which has led to the deal with Apple.
The Premier League leads the way, but MLS has seen how they have developed their product and are using similar plans to help build their reputation and begin to compete with other top leagues in Europe.