The Future of Broadcasting Soccer Has Big Implications for All Sports

Apple's Major League Soccer deal is just the beginning

World Cup Trophy
The FIFA World Cup trophy is displayed during an event in New York after an announcement related to the staging of the FIFA World Cup 2026.
YUKI IWAMURA/AFP via Getty Images

It can be dizzying to keep track of the best way to watch your sports team of choice these days. Networks and cable channels bid for the rights to different leagues, even as streaming services offer another option — with the added complexities of local blackouts thrown into the mix. If your sport of choice is soccer, that makes things even more complex — factoring in different leagues, continental and global competitions and more can be head-spinning.

But in terms of global watchers, the men’s World Cup final draws a whole lot of viewers — 2018’s France-Croatia matchup brought in a record audience.

That’s one of the reasons that the last week or so has offered plenty to think about, when it comes to the future of how we watch sports. In an interview with Richard Deitsch at The Athletic, ESPN chairman Jimmy Pitaro spoke about his desire to see ESPN win broadcast rights for the 2030 World Cup.

“I think soccer is part of the identity today of ESPN. If you’re a soccer fan now, you pretty much have to have ESPN+,” Pitaro said. “Yeah, we’re all in on the sport. So the answer to your question is yes. Whenever they’re ready to talk, we’re ready to sit down with them.”

As Deitsch notes, ESPN also has the rights to a host of soccer leagues, both overseas and domestic. And Pitaro’s comment about soccer being a key part of ESPN’s identity resonates with another big broadcasting deal involving soccer — Apple’s 10-year agreement to stream all of Major League Soccer’s games beginning next year.

The full implications of Apple’s deal remain unknown — but it seems like a calculated risk on the part of both entities. For MLS, it’s a sign of the league’s ambition; for Apple, it’s a way to demonstrate that they’re capable of handling streaming for an entire league. It seems likely that they have their eyes on other leagues as well — to say nothing of the World Cup. And it seems very possible that, by the time the 2030 World Cup rolls around, the way we watch sports could be very different.

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