DON GARBER: Today is a historic day for our league and for our sport. As you'll hear from Eddy, it's a very historic day for the sports business overall as we announced just a few minutes ago a first-of-its -kind, 10-year partnership with one of the most innovative and customer-focused companies in the entire world, Apple.
This new partnership is going to provide our fans around the world every live Major League Soccer match, more in-depth coverage than ever before and a terrific lineup of original programming.
As you read in the release, we will have over 900 MLS games, Leagues Cup matches, MLX NEXT Pro matches – our second league – and our youth league, MLS NEXT, matches all available in one place, through the new streaming service that will live on the Apple TV app, as well as a broad selection of MLS and Leagues Cup matches that will live on Apple TV.
After Eddy's comments and Gary’s comments, we will get into a little more detail.
We believe our league is perfectly positioned for the next evolution of how people watch live sports. With this new partnership with Apple, it's going to give our very young, diverse, digital-native fans – remember, over 80% of our fans are streaming a weekly soccer match, because this is the way they are, this is what they do, this is what they've asked for. We’re going to deliver them every match anywhere, anytime, anywhere around the world without any restrictions or any blackouts.
There were many things that we set out to achieve when we created the strategy to renew our media deals. We started many years ago. We thought about taking back our local team rights, we thought about how we aggregate our global rights, how we aggregate our data and how we think about sports betting – all things that many journalists over the last couple years have heard about – so we could come up with a partnership that would capitalize on the momentum and the rocket fuel of the World Cup to put this league in a position to be able to deliver on the expectations of our fans, to be one of the great players in the world of global soccer, and certainly position us to be one of the top soccer leagues around the world.
When we started out this process, we had a logo on the whiteboard. That logo was the Apple logo. We could not have found a more perfect partner in Apple, in Eddy Cue, and his team. We're really excited to kick off this relationship next season. We've got a lot of details to talk about.
First, let me throw it over to Eddy. Eddy, it will be great for you to give a little bit of background on your thoughts about the league, this partnership and how excited you and the rest of the company are about this great 10-year partnership.
EDDY CUE: Thanks, Don. I appreciate it. It's great to be with everyone. I haven't met most of you so I hope we will get a chance over the next year to meet in person.
This is truly a historic moment for sports and I think, most importantly, a dream come true for fans. I'm a huge sports fan. For the first time ever as a fan, I'll be able to access everything from a major professional sports league in a single place. It's never been done before.
We're going to take all of the things that Apple is really good at – th e experiences, the style, the approach we take to making great products – to this. We're committed to growing the sport of soccer with MLS. We're going to make it easy for people to fall in love with MLS and root for their favorite clubs.
MLS is already in a tremendous trajectory as the fastest growing soccer league in the world. We think it's going to be even bigger as the World Cup comes to the U.S., Canada and Mexico. The Seattle Sounders made history this year winning the [Concacaf] Champions League fo r the first time. The most global players of any league with 82 countries represented, which is incredible. We're excited about the fan base. It's the youngest, most diverse fan base in North America.
We think we have a huge opportunity to build on the great work MLS has already done to bring a whole new generation of fans and expand the audience in North America and beyond.
For Apple, we couldn't be more excited about this partnership, key word 'partnership'. We're going to do a lot of great things together. We have a lot of ideas on ways that we can innovate. When you have everything in one place, it's the only way you can do some of those things. This is very, very exciting news for us and I think for all soccer fans around the world.
THE MODERATOR:Thank you, Eddy. We really appreciate you joining us today.
As I mentioned, we do have Gary Stevenson and Commissioner Garber available for questions. Gary is the gentleman overseeing all the strategy and our team working on this over the last number of years.
Gary, if you could give us a synopsis of how this came together. It was more than five years ago as we were putting this process together.
GARY STEVENSON: Four or five years ago, we had an off-site and started to think about our next media deal, which starts next year. It was obvious at that time that there was a transition going on in the world, probably the greatest transition in the way sports media would be distributed since the advent of cable television.
We started to say, ‘Okay, what would we need? What will our offering be to be able to take advantage of that streaming?’ Clearly, the most important thing was to have all of our rights expire at the same time. So, we asked our clubs and our owners and our chief business officers to make sure all the local agreements expired at the same time. We did the same thing with all of our domestic and our international agreements. That really was the backbone of our strategy.
We knew if a streamer was going to be interested, they would have to have all of our product. We weren't sure exactly when the transition would happen from a streaming standpoint, but we believed it would come in due time.
It's happened faster than we all thought. I often say think about how many matches you used to watch streamed three years ago compared to what you watch now. Then think about what you'll watch three years forward. It's dramatically changing.
This was the right package for us to take to Apple. Eddy and his team immediately understood why it mattered for them, and the opportunity for us to be integrated across the Apple ecosystem was really important.
You think about when Apple got into the music business. Now, they are the music business. You think about when Apple got in the news business just four years ago. Now, they're a dominant player in news.
This idea of what they can do for us and for our fan base, to create new fans and to develop and engage our existing fans, was just so exciting to us.
As both Eddy and Don said, this starts with the fans and this starts with what it means to the fans.
THE MODERATOR:Thank you, Gary. Thank you, Commissioner. Thank you, Eddy.
Q. Don, could you speak about the risk/reward of putting everything in one place for people to find? Certainly, I think this is where technology is going, but maybe not having as big of a presence on local TV networks like WGN in Chicago where I am. What is the league's current strategy on still negotiating some linear TV options for national TV games? Also, it says in the release MLS will produce all of the games. Does that include the portion of games that seem to be set aside for Apple TV specifically or will they be producing some national broadcasts within that as well?
DON GARBER: A lot of your questions are going to be about production, so I'll have Gary talk about what our thinking is and ultimately what our timetable is to build out what is going to be a very exciting opportunity for us and something that MLS and Soccer United Marketing do really well. As you've seen the other businesses we've launched, we’ve been best-in -class in taking on these new opportunities. I couldn't be more bullish and excited about the opportunity to get into the production business.
What we’re trying to do here is to aggregate as much of our content together so that we can make it easy for our fans, wherever they are, however they consume – whether they're a fan of the Chicago Fire in Chicago or they're a fan of Chicago Fire from another city or another state or even another country – giving any fan the opportunity to consume content all in one place and all on one device.
What Eddy has said in previous conversations here is that these are not just Apple devices. They are the Apple app living on almost every smart TV, living on Android devices and living just about anywhere you can download the app.
The accessibility to our content goes way beyond that which was previously offered, even though in local markets, in some cases you were able to just turn on your TV and watch a particular local game.
The second part is that we are convinced that this is where our fans are going and this is where the business is going. We have an opportunity to go there perhaps before anybody else does and to do it with a company that we believe is going to be the driver and ultimate winner in this global sports streaming space.
In the discussions that we've had with Apple, with their integration, marketing, branding, technology and engineering teams, the amount of innovation and opportunity for us to build a fan base, which is the primary goal of this partnership, is really vast. You are going to see that play out over the next number of years.
GARY STEVENSON: The other thing I'd add to what Don was saying is that we are still going to complete our linear deals. But in addition to those linear deals, we will release a distribution grid in the next three to four months which will show a number of our matches will be in front of the pay wall on Apple TV. They'll be shown on Apple TV+ in addition to the MLS streaming service. All the matches will be on the streaming service, but we'll have additional exposure through those means.
The combination of that will lead to better distribution for our product than we have even today with our national and local agreements.
On the production side, we've been building a production plan for the last couple years. We installed Second Spectrum cameras at all of our facilities which will provide us better data and interesting data that we can integrate into our production. All of our matches will be produced in 1080p. We've been producing matches for a number of years. Most of our clubs produce the matches locally and we think there's a more efficient way to deliver that live match content by centralizing production.
Q. I think a lot of fans are trying to wrap their heads around this still. I think the biggest question I have is about the linear TV aspect of it, specifically the local. I want to be clear. The local linear, local broadcast TV, is out of the deal? It's all streaming? Is that a correct understanding of that? How does that affect things?
GARY STEVENSON: All the matches will be distributed on the MLS streaming service, the subscription service. All matches. In addition to that, there will be select matches that will be distributed on linear. There will be select matches that will be aired free to consumers on the Apple TV platform. There will be a select number of matches that will be distributed on Apple TV+. All of those matches will also be distributed on the MLS streaming service.
Q. I want to be crystal clear. The local TV part is out of the deal?
GARY STEVENSON: Local TV will be out of the deal.
THE MODERATOR: Each season ticket account will receive a subscription to the MLS streaming service as part of the package.
Q.Sorry to tap on the same nail once again. I want to make sure that fans won't get to watch all the games on TV as it is right now, that's exactly what's going on? They're going to have to be subscribers of the streaming platform? I'm sorry for making you repeat a third time.
GARY STEVENSON: That's okay. I'm happy to.
There will be select games on linear television in Canada. Those games will also be shown on the MLS streaming service. All games will be on the MLS streaming service. Some select games will also be simulcast on linear television in Canada and the United States, and on a different parts of the Apple platform, Apple TV+ and in front of the Apple TV pay wall.
Q. Just to make sure, will there be French games on regular television at some point?
GARY STEVENSON: Yes, there will be. We'll produce matches in English, Spanish and French, particularly in Quebec in Canada, in the first year. Eventually, we'll expand languages. We'll add Portuguese by year three.
Keep in mind, this is a global product. The beauty of this product is if you're in London and you want to watch Montréal or if you're in Columbus, Ohio, or you're in Hong Kong or Bogota, you'll have the ability to push one button and watch that MLS match that you want to watch.
Q. In an SBJ report, it says this package is worth $250 million. Can you confirm that? If I'm hearing this correctly, your national, linear package is still available? What’s left in that asset? Just the national linear rights left?
DON GARBER: I'm not quite sure how that number got out. It always seems to do that.
I'm not going to confirm or deny it. You can be sure that the sale of our additional linear rights and other content that we'll be packaging up and willing to sell, create and monetize, we're very confident in the final number that we'll be delivering to our ownership.
This process has turned out to be a lengthy one but a productive one. I want to have everybody understand, this is a minimum guarantee. It's not a rights fee. We have to eliminate that concept of a traditional media deal, where media companies pay rights fees then they monetize it themselves and operate independently from a financial perspective from the rights-holder.
This is a partnership we're forming with Apple. That partnership has, as a part of it, the building of an MLS subscription channel, additional games on various Apple platforms and additional games that can be sold to linear partners.
If we exceed the minimum guarantee, then we share in the upside in that guarantee. If we're able to sell our linear rights for what we hope and expect to sell them for, then we will even exceed our expectations.
Q. I'm told that ESPN did not bid on those streaming rights. They could still be in for the television rights. Can you comment on that?
DON GARBER: No, we're not going to comment on any of those other negotiations. You could ask them if you like.
We've had very productive conversations with them and we're in discussions to have them continue with us.
Q. I want to get two points clarified from Gary. If teams want to have more games on local TV, it sounds like they can't. You said the production is going to be centralized. Will the broadcasts be out of a studio or from the stadiums?
GARY STEVENSON: In this agreement, there won't be local broadcasts of the matches. One of the things that I think is interesting about this opportunity is it's providing some unique opportunities for us to change the way we do our scheduling.
When you think about our schedule today, this year alone we'll have 63 different start-day and start-time combinations (over the seven days of the week). It's really hard for our fans to understand when the games are starting, whether they're a fan going to the stadium or whether they're a fan watching the broadcast.
Through this new agreement, we plan on our midweek games being on Wednesday nights and our weekend games being on Saturday nights, unless there is a stadium availability issue or if we have a linear window that is outside of that window.
What that allows for our fans is to plan their schedules accordingly. This idea of aggregating all of our matches Saturday night, we'll have a whip-around show that will be available on Apple on our streaming service. That whip-around show will be as long as six hours because most of the games will start at 7 p.m. or 8 p.m. local, depending on when the club wants to have kickoff. You can imagine what a Saturday night is going to look like. It's almost like Decision Day every single Saturday night where we're in and out of games and there are no more local restrictions, so the fan viewing experience is going to be very different.
There will be a variety of different ways that we're going to produce matches. Obviously in today's environment with technology, you can use cloud storage and cloud technology to produce your matches. The majority of our matches will have our talent on-site, but not all of them.
As technology improves, it's becoming harder and harder to determine whether a crew is on-site or not on-site. That's going to evolve over time as well.
Q. Was the fact that MLS will, for a little while, be sitting alongside Ted Lasso... Don, maybe you can weigh in on that. What might that do for the league? I think a few of us know how Ted Lasso has portrayed American soccer over the years.
DON GARBER: When the music business was going through transformation, Apple got in and transformed the music business in ways that have created a ubiquity. I can speak for myself; my ability to collect, to listen to, to share and to engage music that I'm very passionate about, was enhanced by what Apple did with their devices and their services.
They did the same thing when they got into the news business. They certainly have done the same thing as it relates to Apple TV, winning Academy Awards and creating their top show, which is Ted Lasso.
We're thinking about what is happening with the transition of sports viewership and fan engagement from what has been a traditional cable model over to what is becoming more of a streaming model. Whether it's entertainment or sports, fans are accessing their games in ways that are different than perhaps they did five years ago. That's going to be even more dramatic in the years to come.
Frankly, I'm excited about having our services sit alongside Apple TV and excited about the fact that the number one subscription service and fan engagement company is going to be building out our direct-to -consumer subscription business.
We've been thoughtful about what this all means to our teams in coming up with a new commercial model. We've met with our clubs and they're excited about the new opportunity.
Every season ticket holder is going to get a subscription to the service. We're going to work very carefully on what the grid is in terms of how games are allocated across the various platforms. We have the ability, for the first time, to take this league, which has been the North American version of the global game, and turn it into a league that can have a more global presence and fan connection opportunity.
When we sign a player from Argentina, rather than just having that player come to one of our clubs – maybe one will come to Miami – and then capitalize on that in our North American league. We have the ability to have a two-way relationship with fans in those markets. We want to be a global player on the field, and we have been, and that was very deliberate. Now, we want to be a global player off the field. The partnership with the largest, most innovative global technology and content company in the world is a vehicle for us to begin that process.
We couldn't be more excited about it.
Q. Financially, obviously, the terms that have been reported are massive. How much of an impact do you think this will make compared to what teams were receiving in the last deal? What kind of growth will that enable? From a storytelling perspective, it sounds like the possibilities here are going to be huge compared to what we've seen in the past in terms of pregame, postgame, studio shows, et cetera. How much do you think this will add in that area? One procedural question. For the commentary teams themselves on the Apple TV+ games, is that going to be one team per game or are there going to be two commentary teams per game like we see in the local broadcast shows currently?
DON GARBER: Obviously, this will be an economic benefit to our teams. As our team values continue to rise and as the energy and momentum around the league continues to grow, our investments have grown and you all see that. Nobody knows more about our clubs than those of you who follow it every day.
You're seeing this with investment in facilities. You're seeing it with investment in our player pool and the strategic investment of bringing in the kind of players that could make our clubs more competitive, leading to our first win in the Concacaf Champions League in Seattle. I was just in Austin with the U.S. team and toured with the board of U.S. Soccer around our great new facility there. Our development under the first team has been significant. As you all know, it's been a massive investment.
We've got to generate revenue in how we're monetizing our content. This deal is an example of that. We also are in the process of renewing a number of other great opportunities for us, soon to be announced in terms of new partnerships and also new technology deals. Stay tuned for that. They'll roll out over the next 30 days.
When we met with Apple the first time, this was not a presentation by Major League Soccer. It was a presentation by Apple to show us the breadth and scope of their company and the way they think about customers or they think about fans; how they have a product that is the same and accessible to any consumer no matter where they are in the world.
The ease of access and the ability to tell stories as they're doing very effectively with Apple TV, and the way they've been telling stories with the evolution of their products really for the last couple of decades – that integration into the Apple family is one of the great values of this deal.
I go back to the first question. This is not a traditional media deal. It is something where we're both aligned to build our fan base. If we build our fan base, we both ultimately become winners financially but also winners in that we have people that will care more and more about Major League Soccer, our clubsand our players. Hopefully, they'll care more about Apple's inroads and their commitment to getting into the sports streaming business.
GARY STEVENSON: The only thing I would add to that is that our ability, as you said, to tell stories is the most difficult thing to explain in this process.
Our clubs produce content today. They produce a lot of content. That content is distributed at MLS, it's distributed through some of our content partners and it's also distributed on some of our local club's social media and their websites.
Our clubs are already in the content business. What this is going to give us an opportunity to do is harvest all that content, and I expect that will double and triple both at the national and club level, because we have a place to distribute it with Apple. Apple has said to us, ‘We will take as much content as you possibly can give us because that helps us serve the fans.’
They think about the fan experience. They think about the consumer experience first. If there's a press conference in Philadelphia and Jim Curtin talks about the upcoming game or he talks about the impact his players are having internationally, if we can harvest that content, pull it into our production facility andthen repurpose it and send it to Apple, it will have a place that it can be distributed.
That part of it is very, very, very important to us on the fan creation and development side. Imagine if we sign a star player from Colombia. Immediately, we have the ability to serve content to those fans in Colombia of that particular player through the Apple global distribution system. Whether it's Apple News, Apple Health and Fitness, Apple Watches, Apple Music, all of those different areas we expect to be integrated in as we go forward with Apple.
To me, when you think about the intangibles here and why this really makes the most sense? It makes the most sense because we have that ability to distribute content.
Second question was what will our national shows look like.
There will be more details coming out on this in the next couple months, but what we anticipate is that we will have a pregame show, a halftime show and a postgame show for every one of our matches, which gives us an opportunity to set the matches. It gives us the opportunity to visit other matches that are happening at the same time at halftime. It gives us an opportunity to recap every single match. That again gives us an opportunity to interview players and coaches, which creates more content, more stars and more interest in our league.
With the distribution windows we have today, in a lot of cases we don't have the opportunity to do that, so we're really excited about that part of it.
Finally, each club will have the ability to create local content shows as well in their market. If a club wants to do a local pregame show before the national pregame show to talk specifically about what's going on with that particular club, we have the ability to do this. This expands our opportunity.
The real intangible of this is our ability to tell stories because, quite frankly, that's one of the things that has been missing for us with our existing media partnerships.
Q. I have a question about the international aspect of this deal. Just to clarify, outside of the United States, is the only place you're going to be able to watch MLS games on Apple?
GARY STEVENSON: That's yet to be determined. We are working on that plan with Apple. Similar to what we do in the United States and Canada, we've had conversation about other linear distribution.
Our primary emphasis outside of the United States and Canada will be on the Apple platforms. Similar to what we have domestically on those platforms, the product will be offered in some cases, some select games will be in front of the pay wall, some select games will be on Apple TV+, and all the games will be available on the MLS streaming service.