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Apple Takes Swing at Sports With Major League Baseball Rights Deal

MLB All Star Game (Courtesy of SHAWN THEW/EPA-EFE/REX/Shutterstock)

Apple has snared rights to a Friday-night package of Major League Baseball games, extending Silicon Valley’s reach into the world of sports.

Under terms of the new pact, Apple will have exclusive rights to telecast two “Friday Night Baseball” games each week — totaling about 50 per year — in the U.S. and to eight countries overseas, via its Apple TV Plus. Apple CEO Tim Cook revealed the pact during a live-streamed company event. Apple’s pact will start as soon as Major League Baseball and its players’ union settle a labor dispute that has already shortened the league’s next season, and raised concerns over how many games will be played in 2022. Financial terms were not disclosed.

We have a next generation of fans that may be ‘cord-nevers,’ and you’ve got people that are no longer inside the bundle,” says Noah Garden, MLB’s chief revenue officer, in an interview, referring to the cable and satellite operators who have for years delivered many live sports broadcasts. “The most important thing for us right now is reach.”

The consumer-electronics manufacturer no doubt hopes an attractive passel of sports rights will bring new viewership to its Apple TV Plus streaming service, which vies for consumer attention and subscription dollars with Disney’s Disney Plus and Netflix, among others, and Apple’s deal only adds to pressures on leagues and media companies to include streaming rights in sports deals. Indeed, ESPN has over the past few years kept streaming rights paramount in its deal making, and the company’s Hulu already shows some live NHL games as part of a deal between the league and sister outlet ESPN.

WarnerMedia has deals in place that will let it stream NHL games and, next year, men’s and women’s matches from the U.S. Soccer Federation. Amazon last year won new solo rights to stream the NFL’s “Thursday Night Footballand is gearing up for its new tenure.

The MLB games became available after ESPN trimmed its baseball-rights package in a new seven-year agreement with MLB, cutting loose weekday games in favor of a more intense focus on Sunday telecasts, the league’s Home Run Derby and some post-season wild card games.

Major League Baseball is slated to produce the games, Garden says, along with pre- and post-game shows. And there will be other baseball-related programming. “MLB Big Inning” will be a live show featuring highlights and will be available every weeknight during the regular season. Apple TV Plus will also feature a new 24/7 livestream with game replays, news and analysis, highlights, classic games and more, along with a suite of on-demand programming that could include original content.

Apple plans to offer new coverage of the league and teams that will appear in Apple News, and will give subscribers the ability to watch highlights in its News app. Initially, the “Friday Night Baseball” doubleheaders will be available without the need for an Apple TV Plus subscription, Apple said. The company also plans to expand availability of the MLB livestreams to other countries over time. The company also expects to add new innovations to the viewing experience, according to a person familiar with the matter, and tap new personalities that may bring new views to the broadcasting of the game.

MLB may have more weekday games to deal. The Apple games represent “a subsection” of the weekday games the league has available, says Garden.

The MLB executive declined to speak about the status of the league’s talks with players.

“All I can say is that I look forward to getting back on the field, and that when we do, we are hopeful we in a positioning ourselves and our fans in ways they can find our products and consume our content on the device of their choice.”

Variety's Brian Steinberg contributed to this post.


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