If the Los Angeles Dodgers have a big game on a Friday night late in the upcoming baseball season, the only way to watch it will be through Apple TV+.
The Cupertino-based tech giant Apple announced Tuesday that it will have the exclusive rights to stream “Friday Night Baseball” on Apple TV+ once the 2022 season commences — though it’s an open question when that will be, as the team owners and the Major League Baseball Players Assn. are in negotiations on a new labor contract. The players are locked out of their spring training camps.
Apple TV+ will carry two Friday night games during the regular season. Terms of the deal — which include rights to show the games in a number of international markets, among them including Mexico and Japan — were not disclosed.
For Major League Baseball, it’s a bid to get its sport in front of younger consumers who have gravitated away from traditional TV.
“As MLB’s fan base is aging and the pay TV universe is shrinking, baseball needs to be on every screen if it wants to attract a new generation of fans,” said Lee Berke, president of the consulting firm LHB Sports, Media & Entertainment.
Conversely, the move could cause consternation among baseball’s older fans, as the games will be available only on Apple TV+ even in the local markets of the teams involved.
When MLB games were shown exclusively on social media platforms Facebook and YouTube in recent seasons, fans called into sports talk radio stations to complain about elderly relatives not being able to watch the games on TV.
Apple TV+, best known for the hit series “Ted Lasso,” was launched in 2018 and reportedly has around 20 million subscribers paying $4.99 a month. For a limited time, there will be no subscription needed to watch “Friday Night Baseball,” although it will eventually be for Apple TV+ subscribers only.
Apple’s deal is clearly about the future; it’s another foot in the door for deep-pocketed tech companies looking for a way into live sports, still the most reliable audience draw for the TV business. Amazon is paying around $1 billion a season to the National Football League to make its Prime Video streaming service the exclusive home of “Thursday Night Football,” which never turned a profit when it aired on network television.
Leagues still want the reach that they get from broadcast television and its ability get their games into every household in the U.S. But the lure of higher rights fees could push more contests onto streaming platforms.
“This probably isn’t the end for Apple’s sports rights aspirations,” said Berke. “The NFL’s Sunday Ticket, an equity percentage in NFL Media, Wimbledon, the Big Ten and the NBA are all possibilities.”
In addition to “Friday Night Baseball,” Apple TV+ will offer a live nightly show, “MLB Big Inning,” featuring highlights and look-ins into regular-season games. Users in the U.S. and Canada also will have access to a new 24/7 livestream with MLB game replays, news and analysis, highlights and classic games.