Apple is considering bidding for the streaming rights to a range of English football games, according to people familiar with the situation, a move that would step up its sports ambitions and increase competition with Amazon’s Prime Video.
The rights under consideration would allow Apple to show Premier League games in the UK, as well as lower league matches run by the English Football League, said two of the people, who asked not to be identified because the deliberations are private.
Such a move would build on Apple’s recent expansion into live sports in the US, where it forged a $2.5 billion (roughly Rs. 20,600 crore) 10-year deal with Major League Soccer to show games on its TV+ platform. The company also streams Major League Baseball on Friday nights. And one of the streaming service’s most popular TV series, Ted Lasso, follows a fictional Premier League team coached by an American.
Pushing into English football would pit Apple against entrenched media companies such as Comcast’s Sky and Warner Bros. Discovery, which last year agreed to a joint venture with BT Sport. It also could throw down the gauntlet with Amazon, which has become a force in streaming European football.
A spokesperson for Apple declined to comment. The English Premier League declined to comment on whether Apple had shown any interest in bidding for its next set of rights. An EFL spokesperson, meanwhile, said the league is currently reviewing potential bidders for its upcoming sale of rights.
Apple has enlisted sports media veterans Jim DeLorenzo and Frank Uddo in building its streaming platform, and they will “know the value that international football can bring to the system,” said Peter Hutton, who previously served as a media partnerships executive at Meta Platforms Inc.
Offering the games may be a more effective way to attract viewers overseas than other fare, he said.
“Apple will be looking closely at their early data on MLS and MLB experiments, but the unique ability of sport to change a predefined audience’s behavior means it’s a safer bet than entertainment content to grow the Apple TV international market,” said Hutton, who’s also the former head of the Eurosport network.
The EFL is offering the rights to seasons starting in 2024. The Premier League has a deal with Sky, BT Sport and Amazon for live games that runs through the 2024-2025 season. The Premier League sold domestic rights for 2022 to 2025 for $6.3 billion (roughly Rs. 51,800 crore).
Amazon has been rapidly expanding its sports broadcasting franchise. In addition to winning Premier League rights in the UK, it’s showing the US Open tennis tournament in the UK and Ireland, as well as the Champions League tournament in the UK, Italy and Germany. Amazon also streams NFL games on Thursday nights for Prime subscribers.
Apple launched its TV+ streaming service in 2019 and has built a platform known for flashy series with major stars. But the company hasn’t been as ambitious as Netflix Inc. and Walt Disney Co. in vying for subscribers. Many of its users watch TV+ for free through trials that come with buying other Apple products.
Apple also hasn’t invested heavily in a back catalogue of programming, a key way that Netflix keeps its 230 million-plus subscribers happy.
With sports, Apple began in a similarly measured way but has become gradually more aggressive. The Cupertino, California-based company forged its baseball deal a year ago, agreeing to show Friday night games for free. This season, the company began requiring subscriptions to watch the coverage.
Apple started showing MLS games last month, and it’s using that agreement to expand into the TV advertising market. The move is part of a broader push by the iPhone maker to make money from ads.
© 2023 Bloomberg LP