The United States Soccer League is screen hungry. Known for having squeezed the last few years of soccer from legends such as David Beckham, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, David Villa and, more recently, Gareth Bale and Giorgio Chiellini, Major League Soccer (MLS) does not have any explosive stars in the 2023 season over the field. The most attractive signing this year is Apple. The Cupertino technology company has become since this Saturday, at the start of the campaign, the main world showcase for the fastest growing sport in the country.
The rain has ruined the great start of the first season that Tim Cook’s company will take to more than 100 countries through Season Pass, available on Apple TV. The big game this Saturday was the Los Angeles classic known as El Tráfico, between the current champions, Los Angeles Fútbol Club (LAFC) and the Galaxy, the most prestigious team in MLS with five titles. The match was to be played at the Rose Bowl, the iconic Pasadena stadium that hosted the 1994 World Cup final between Brazil and Italy (and where neither of the two teams play). The match was intended to break the attendance record in the league, which is 27 years old and which last year reached 10 million spectators in the stadiums for the first time. But an unusual winter storm has forced a change in plans. Traffic will be played on July 4, a public holiday. The record will have to wait.
Apple’s entry into MLS has had an impact long before the ball has rolled. “Previously, the games were played at different times because we played when we had windows with our television partners,” explains Camilo Durana, vice president of Properties and Events at MLS. The agreement closed last year represents for the league 2,500 million dollars (about 2,400 million euros) for the next 10 years. It has brought some consistency to the schedules of the 29 franchises. As of 2023, 93% of the matches will be at 7:30 p.m. on Saturdays and Wednesdays (the US has three different times). All these can be seen anywhere in the world, since they will not have the blockade known as blackout, that use leagues like the NBA or the MLB, the baseball league.
From New York, where MLS is based, they say that this follows the example set by the NFL, the American football league, to create rituals and habits. It also represents an effort for the teams that want to be part of this showcase of the streaming. The company on the block, which has promised fans matches in a definition of 1080 pixels and with Dolby 5.1 sound, all for $14.99 per month (or $99 for the season). The studio where the new programs will be made will also be in Manhattan.
“It’s a long shot because MLS is earning $250 million a year, more than the $90 million the networks paid in rights, but a lot of the spending will go into production. The league is creating a television station,” says Herculez Gómez, a former American player who is now a host on ESPN, a chain that this year chose not to continue broadcasting the matches in the US, as Fox will do, which will broadcast 34 games.
Apple adds soccer to its product offering. The American sports press believes that the technology giant is responsible for the latest twist devised by the league. The playoffs They will be played this year with a new format. The eliminatory ones decided before to a single party. Now, 18 teams will advance, which must win the best of three games. This modification gives the Season Pass more streaming content in the final phase. And from New York another novelty stands out, the League Cup, a miniature tournament that will pit the 29 teams from the United States against the 18 from the first division of Mexico. “There will be 77 new parties between July and August and they will be part of the Season Pass. We are creating a much more attractive product”, considers Durana.
They may not be the only surprises. Commissioner Don Garber has promised to announce before the end of the year what will be the 30th MLS team, which has been adding a new franchise for seven consecutive years. This year’s is St. Louis Sc, in Missouri, a team that has inaugurated a stadium for 22,500 people, but has a demand of 60,000 people who want the season ticket. It is believed that Las Vegas, in Nevada, or San Diego (which would be the fourth team from California) could be next.
Gómez, who played for teams from Mexico and the United States between 2002 and 2017, underscores the silence that the MLS soccer players’ association has kept, so far, which has players from 82 countries and thirty who participated in the World Cup. “The calendar is saturated and I think they are not taking the health of the players into account,” he says. Some coaches were also recently upset that changes to the training format had not been reported. playoffswhich were made public this Tuesday after days of speculation.
Many agree that MLS needs a new face to sell the product that will be in millions of hands that hold an iPhone. The league has tried to shake off its fame of being the destination of a golden retirement with stories of youngsters like that of Paraguayan Miguel Almirón, who Atlanta signed to Argentine Lanús for eight million dollars. Today he is Newcastle’s top scorer. The other story is that of the Mexican-American defender Julián Araujo, who left the Galaxy to go to Barcelona B under Rafa Márquez.
But the future of the MLS may lie with former wearers of the Barça shirt. Phil Neville, David Beckham’s Inter Miami coach, admitted this week to The Times that they are interested in bringing in Lionel Messi and Sergio Busquets. “Football in this region of the world is still something exotic to the rest of the world. The Apple deal is missing a star. What Beckham was at the time, ”says Gómez.
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