A media-rights deal has been in the wind for a while now, but Apple and Major League Baseball on Tuesday made things official, as the tech giant announced it has snapped up the rights to a weekly doubleheader package that will stream on its Apple TV+ service.
In what amounts to Apple’s first deep dive into live sports coverage, the company will begin streaming the new Friday Night Baseball twin bill as soon as the 2022 MLB season gets underway. MLB chief revenue officer Noah Garden said the doubleheader offering effectively features “inventory we received back when we couldn’t come to an agreement with ESPN” on a renewal of the network’s longstanding weeknight bookings.
ESPN last May inked a $4 billion extension with MLB, securing a slimmed-down package of 30 exclusive games. In doing so, ESPN retained 25 Sunday Night Baseball telecasts, while passing up renewals for its Monday and Wednesday night games. As it happens, ESPN aired MLB games under the Friday Night Baseball banner from 1990 to 1993.
Apple CEO Tim Cook made the announcement this afternoon during the company’s “Peek Performance” showcase, its first major product event of 2022. A brief sizzle reel featuring the likes of Shohei Ohtani, Christian Yelich and Juan Soto accompanied the announcement, which led into a lavish presentation for the new iPhone SE.
Under terms of the deal, MLB will produce the Apple TV+ games from its Secaucus, N.J., facility. Garden said the Friday night broadcast teams are yet to be determined, before adding that the partners’ booth hunt may take them behind the MLB Network stable.
As was the case with MLB’s limited streaming deal with Facebook, the Apple TV+ games will include a number of interactive bells and whistles. While details are still being ironed out, the look and feel of the streaming games will be keyed to appeal to younger baseball fans. In the early going, at least, the interactivity will not include in-game wagering or any other nods to the legal sports-betting boom, although Garden said a gambling tie-in hasn’t been ruled out.
Financial terms were not disclosed. At launch, the Friday night games will be in front of the Apple TV+ paywall. Payment schedules may be in the works as the season progresses.
“Like any great partnership, we’ve done a lot of learning together since Apple debuted the app store in 2008,” Garden said. “But this is not just a streaming deal. At the heart of it, this unprecedented integration is an opportunity for us to gain a greater understanding of the streaming space.”
The acceleration of the cord-cutting movement has made it imperative for MLB to try to reach younger viewers by way of alternative video platforms. Per Nielsen’s most recent roundup of cable coverage estimates, ESPN is now in 78.7 million pay-TV homes, down from the 100 million homes it reached at its peak in 2011. While the cable bundle is far from dead, the people who still subscribe to an all-in-one service are overwhelmingly AARP-adjacent, which is in keeping with overall TV usage patterns. Season-to-date, only 17% of the broadcast primetime audience is in the 18-49 demo, and fewer than 7% are adults 18-34.
Beyond the Friday night doubleheaders, Apple TV+ subscribers can also look forward to a new 24/7 livestream featuring game replays, news and analysis, highlights and a slate of classic games that stretches all the way back to the 1950s. MLB will also be locked into the Apple News rotation, which translates to a tide of alerts and updates about baseball that will pop up on users’ iPhones, tablets and laptops.
At launch, Friday Night Baseball will be available in the United States and six other countries, a global swath that includes Canada, Mexico, Brazil, Australia, South Korea and the U.K. Additional markets will be added at a later date.
In addition to the Apple deal, an MLB streaming arrangement with Comcast’s Peacock service is expected to be announced in short order.
(This article was corrected in the seventh paragraph to clarify that at launch, games will be in front of the paywall.)