Lionel Messi, the World Cup winner generally considered to be one of the greatest to have ever played the game, has not only boosted the fortunes of his new MLS club Inter Miami, but of the entire league and streaming service Apple TV+.
Why the MLS boost matters
Apple’s move for the digital rights to the MLS began long before Messi was linked with Miami – before he had won the World Cup, in fact. Its MLS rights deal followed a deal with Major League Baseball to stream Friday night games. But Messi’s impact has been no accident, and Apple hasn’t been shy about touting the sport’s GOAT on its Season Pass website.
As a sporting portfolio, this is undoubtedly smart – especially given Apple’s growing ambitions in the advertising space. MLB skews older but older viewers tend to have more disposable income; soccer fans in the US tend to be younger, more diverse and, thanks to the excitement of players like Messi, are growing stronger by the day and adding to an overall growth trend.
What’s going on
Messi’s debut on 21 July saw U.S. subscriptions to MLS Season Pass and Apple TV+ surge to 110,000, compared to the previous day’s 6,143 signups, according to Antenna data reported by WSJ.
There is definitely a ‘Messi effect’ at play here, with the striker’s second appearance also causing a spike in signups.
Apple TV+ experienced an overall boost in subscriptions, making July the strongest month for new U.S. customers this year.
A question of sport
Sport rights, while typically very expensive to secure for some of the biggest leagues, such as the English Premier League or Spain’s La Liga, is a reliable reducer of churn. Fans of a club are likely to be more reliably engaged than fans of an original show in its first or second season.
Apple’s deal with the MLS is reported to be around $2.5bn over 10 years; the arrival of one of the game’s greatest living players to the U.S. top flight has turned the move into a great subscriber draw.
Flexibility is key: Apple’s MLS Season Pass offer is also interesting for its flexibility: users can either go for just the MLS games or add it onto their Apple TV+ subscription. It is also involved with match-going fans, having offered MLS season ticket holders free subscriptions for this first year. This contrasts with traditional cable operators’ relatively restrictive offer.
Tech on the rise: Soccer is far from America’s favorite sport. That title goes to the far more expensive NFL, to which tech rivals Amazon and YouTube have flocked. But this is a clever bet on a growing game in a country that is an international outlier given soccer’s vast global reach. It’s also a risky and increasingly expensive game to play, with costs out of the streamer’s control and generally rising fast.