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Grading MLS Season Pass as league hits halfway point

The vast majority of Major League Soccer teams have now played half of their games in the 2023 season, with each of those games airing through the league's new broadcast partner, Apple TV. Apple's MLS Season Pass was pitched as a revolutionary idea and has now turned into a key part of the league's status, both now and in the future.


Soccer in the United States continues to trend upward, and the future 2026 Men's World Cup along with the arrival of Lionel Messi next month further helps that trajectory. That means MLS Season Pass will be the face of the league and could play a key part in retention of new fans.

The MLS Now team has gotten together to grade the streaming service to see how well Apple is doing at putting out a quality product, especially in light of how important MLS Season Pass is. A variety of topics were graded on a scale from 1 to 10, with 1 being the worst and 10 being the best.


Overall opinion of MLS Season Pass - 8.0

Did MLS get a good deal? - 8.3


While views on certain individual aspects of the deal are varied, the general consensus is that MLS Season Pass is a quality product. Production quality is much higher than any local broadcast was able to achieve in previous years, and there has been an effort to produce quality content outside of matches.


Having every match in one place was voted the platform's best feature, with the lack of blackouts also a nice bonus. Ultimately, viewers are happy with the big picture that Apple is moving forward with. The value of the deal is also continuing to look better and better after the announcement of Messi to Inter Miami.


On-Air Talent - 6.3


This category, which includes both match commentators and studio analysts, was also one of two topics mentioned most in response to an open-ended question about the platform's worst feature.


Most of the complaints about on-air talent centered on match commentators, who were judged to either be lacking in general knowledge about the league or overly enthusiastic about one team. Apple made the decision to abandon local broadcasts, instead striving for a national broadcast approach to every match. While that choice can lead to more consistency and professionalism league-wide, several commentators seem to be struggling as they adapt to covering multiple teams on a regular basis.


Production Quality - 8.5


The highest-rated category, which includes sound and picture clarity, the on-screen match scoreboard and anything else related to those features. Apple's push to have every match in 1080p has paid off thus far.


Production Choices - 7.1


With anything from camera angles to replays, the production choices in each match received an average score. This was the least-talked about category in terms of further thoughts from our correspondents.


Studio Shows - 6.6


The category with the most variety in answers had its score dragged down due to execution. MLS 360, the main studio show, is a well-liked feature, but confusion on how to find shows and the quality of studio analysts are the main drawbacks.


Ease of using Apple TV interface - 6.7


While being able to find every match in one app is one of Apple's best features, the MLS Season Pass interface itself has felt confusing. For example, some have found the "Up Next" line to get in the way of other relevant content, especially on non-matchdays.


Apple's willingness to adapt as the season progresses helped this category score higher than if a survey had been taken just a few weeks into the season. For example, full match replays have already been moved to a more accessible location. Here's FC Cincinnati correspondent and podcast co-host Russell McMurry on Apple's improvements thus far:


"Apple’s subtle changes to the experience in both the app and production quality has been a good thing. Design changes incrementally shifting over time to not make too large of a correction is a nice way to fine tune things without causing disorientation for the users. Being willing to make changes mid-season to the production and staffing is worth praising."


Non-English Content - 7.0


Every match is available in English and Spanish, with French commentary also available for certain Canadian matches. Here's Chicago Fire correspondent Timothy Hotze on the non-English content:


"The French coverage has been okay, but the quality isn't what you get in English. One issue is that the league has pushed simultaneous start times because of MLS 360. But you know what isn't available in French or Spanish? MLS 360. No audio, no captions, no alternatives."


Apple's push for a standard match time - 4.4


By far the worst-rated category, the overwhelming consensus is that standard match times have led to a decrease in the amount of MLS matches our correspondents have been able to watch every week. Apple's preference is for every match to start at 7:30 p.m. local time on Saturdays. This means there are numerous matches on simultaneously, and if fans are traveling to a match in-person there is rarely any time to view a second match.


Potential solutions include spreading matches out on Saturday or finding other unique times on days that could attract a lot of viewers. D.C. United correspondent Richard Rolsen shares more about both match times and other content throughout the week:


"Apple needs to expand the footprint of shows. There should be some afternoon games on both Saturday and Sunday. They should also create a must-see prime time match on either Friday night or Sunday night similar to what the NFL did with Monday Night Football. Apple TV should also have some additional shows covering the league during the week that will help build up the star quality of the players by highlighting the who’s who of MLS."


Timothy Hotze also brought up an interesting point about how similar start times do not make much sense in a country that sees a wide variety of weather patterns:


"Pushing for simultaneous start times hurts clubs early in the season in cold weather climates. Beyond that, the start times basically ensure that most fans won't be watching more than a game or two."


How would you rate MLS Season Pass? Let us know on Twitter (@MLSNowPodcast).

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