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Beginning in 2023, there will be no local television for Timbers games as the league turns to streaming matches.

COURTESY PHOTO: MAJOR LEAGUE SOCCER - Major League Soccer has entered a 10-year agreement with Apple to stream all matches leve through a unique app. cost to subscribe has not been annouced, but games can be streamed on any device with an internet connection and will not be limited to Apple products.You could say that Major League Soccer is going with the flow as it turns away from traditional television to an Internet-based streaming platform to deliver live matches to spectators.

Reaction was mostly positive when on June 14 MLS announced that next season it will begin a 10-year partnership with Apple TV to carry all MLS matches on a dedicated streaming app.

The number that stood out from the announced deal was $2.5 billion. The $250 million per year that Apple will pay MLS is about double what the league takes in from its combined current deals with ESPN, Fox and Univision.

Another notable item: No more local television. It seems unlikely that Gray Television, which owns KPTV, viewed its partnership with the Timbers as a significant revenue stream (if it was, the games would likely be on FOX 12 rather than kicked to the secondary channel, FOX-12 Plus/KPDX). But the partnership with the Timbers is a chance to enhance a station's local identity.

From the Timbers' perspective, leaving traditional TV means losing exposure to casual fans, though it's doubtful that many channel surfers who stumble upon games become devoted customers.

It's important to note that teaming with Apple is not limiting the reach of MLS. According to Apple and MLS, the new streaming app will make it possible to view any MLS match live on any device with an Internet connection (yes, including Android devices) — with no blackouts.

On the subject of devoted customers, season-ticket holders for MLS teams will receive free access to the new Apple TV MLS app.

We don't yet know how valuable that perk might be, since the price to subscribe to the Apple TV MLS app has not been revealed. Stay tuned for that. In announcing the deal, Apple and MLS promised pregame and postgame coverage and, perhaps most exciting, whip-around coverage similar to the NFL's popular Red Zone channel.

If there are losers in this deal — besides the local broadcasting jobs that will disappear — it's older fans who might not be comfortable with streaming or understand how to access games. But, MLS is betting that sports viewing will continue to migrate from television to streaming outlets. Given that more viewers 30 and younger consume content by streaming than via a cable or satellite subscription, this seems a good bet (at least until the next technological leap).

Multiple reports indicated MLS is still negotiating with linear TV networks, including ESPN, to have some matches televised nationally through more traditional outlets. MLS commissioner Don Garber revealed as much in a letter to MLS fans.

From Apple's perspective, becoming the place to watch MLS for the next decade connects it with an audience that trends younger than fans of football, basketball or baseball. And, with the United States, Canada and Mexico hosting the 2026 FIFA World Cup, Apple will be positioned to benefit from any bump in interest in soccer.

"The new agreement reflects a monetary manifestation of the potential of soccer in the USA in the next decade, along with the growing roles of streaming and cord-cutting services in the sports business ecosystem and the broadcasting mix," Yoav Dubinsky, who teaches sports business at the University of Oregon's Lundquist College of Business, said in an email.

COURTESY PHOTO: UNIVERSITY OF OREGON - Yoav DubinskyThe big plus for established MLS fans: consistency.

Beginning next season, with few exceptions for national television, all MLS regular-season games will be played on Wednesday and Saturday nights. Fans (and reporters) no longer will have to look each week to see what day their team plays.

And the broadcast will be in one place. That will be a welcome change from having to seek out the channel where the Timbers are playing. This season, FOX 12-Plus locally carries any match not on national TV. But over the second half of this season, Portland games also are scheduled to be on ABC, FOX, ESPN, and FS1.

Not that finding games takes a lot of brain power, but being able to go to one place to watch a game — from anywhere in the world, by the way — should be well received.

From a fans' perspective, what matters is how MLS clubs use the extra revenue generated by the Apple partnership. Will their team be willing to spend on more expensive talent?

"Even with this deal, it is unlikely (MLS) will be challenging the popularity of the English Premier League or the UEFA Champions League," Dubinsky said. "However, a significant financial investment that could potentially attract more international talents to play in the USA — and not just towards the end of their careers — might increase the level, reputation, and global popularity of the league."

Pointing to the rise and fall of plans to form a European Super League as an example, Dubinsky said there is risk with new ventures.

"In the case of the MLS and Apple, the risk is not so much about backlash from the community, but of positioning themselves as niche products, especially in comparison to the more popular American sports leagues and broadcasting networks that offer streaming content along with more traditional sports-viewership experiences," Dubinsky said.

Sure, without regular games on ESPN, MLS matches will be less likely to get attention on SportsCenter or on ESPN.com. But, MLS and soccer seldom lead a SportsCenter show. It's hard to imagine interest in MLS rising quickly to the level enjoyed by football, basketball or baseball.


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