Lionel Messi Is Coming to MLS, With a Revenue Sharing Deal From Apple

MG Siegler:

Earlier today, it was announced that Lionel Messi, the world’s greatest soccer player, would be leaving Europe behind and joining Inter Miami. This matters because the biggest name in fútbol (soccer), and arguably in all sports, is coming to America. But it also matters because he’s coming to play in the MLS. A league that has an exclusive television deal with Apple. And as such, Apple apparently helped lure Messi over with an extraordinary offer: a cut of revenue from new subscribers to their Season Pass service.

I’d be very curious to learn just how big a revenue share Messi is getting from Apple, but regardless of the details, this is simply an extraordinary coup for both MLS and Apple TV+. There are only a handful of athletes who are so good, and so beloved, that they can singlehandedly elevate an entire league in a team sport. Lionel Messi is one of them.

Of the people who got early looks at Vision Pro, there’s seemingly universal praise for the NBA court-side and MLB dugout demos. These were apparently shot with special cameras which Apple manufactured to be able to capture footage that could take full advantage of the viewing experience on the new device. It will likely take a bit for this type of content to become more widespread and accepted amongst the leagues. You know where it won’t be? MLS. I fully expect Apple to be filming games with their new Spatial Cameras (I made up the name, but it seems like something they might use… ) soon, if they haven’t started already! Apple isn’t undercutting any other TV rights here (as they might be with say, the NBA), they have exclusive rights. To display any game, any time, anywhere on any device.

It occurred to me after my demo with Vision Pro that it was slightly surprising that Apple included spatial presentations of NBA basketball and MLB baseball, but not MLS soccer — the sport TV+ is most all-in on. (Apple does of course have weekly national broadcasts of MLB with Friday Night Baseball.) But I’ll eat my hat if Apple isn’t planning to broadcast entire MLS games with this technology.

And finally, fifth, much like Apple used AT&T as their exclusive carrier for the iPhone when it launched, I could see them using their MLS deal in a similar manner. That is, work with a league/carrier that is willing to break norms and allow Apple to be in control of the product and offering. And when it’s a success, watch the other leagues/carriers trip over themselves to get in line. It worked with the iPhone. Will it work here? Feels like a pretty good bet to make.

This is exactly what I was thinking when I mentioned in a footnote in my first impressions piece this week that the NFL in particular might have made a colossal mistake signing a long-term deal with Google for Sunday Ticket broadcast rights. Siegler’s comparison to how Apple leveraged its initial exclusivity deal with AT&T with the iPhone seems apt.

Update: Apple also announced a four-part docuseries on Messi’s career coming to TV+.

Friday, 9 June 2023