Will Apple bring live sport to its Apple TV+ service?

When Apple announced its TV+ streaming service in 2019, it was the first of four major launches in a twelve-month period. As cord-cutting and evolving consumer viewing habits hit cable networks and studios, every man and his dog decided it was time to launch their own Netflix rival – to varying degrees of success.

Though Apple undoubtedly has the ecosystem, user base, and capital to make its streaming service work, many have questioned the company’s genuine commitment to changing the way we watch television and movies.

And although Apple TV+ may look successful on paper right now, that’s because most users are on a one-year free trial. Despite a couple of successful series, including The Morning Show and SEE, and highly-anticipated commissions on the way soon, criticism for the service has been rife, with some even questioning whether it’s too late for Apple TV+ to recover from the initial negative headlines

The only way that Apple can attract more consumers to its platform – and encourage them to stick around – is to add more content. Though Apple initially rejected the idea of buying older content from third parties, favoring its own original programming instead, Tim Cook and Co have since changed their tune, and now executives are meeting with Hollywood studios to discuss the possibility of licensing older content to be added to the service.

Only then will it be able to compete with the likes of Amazon Prime Video, Disney+, and Netflix, whose user bases dwarf Apple’s. The company has already acquired a number of shows and movies, but it’s unknown exactly how long we’ll have to wait to get our hands on them. A surprise announcement was Fraggle Rock, which arrived in May with a season commissioned and old episodes available to stream.

One area where the company has been keen to invest is in sport. Back in 2019, rumors began to circulate of Apple acquiring regional sports packages to appease consumers in the US, and since then, the firm has engaged in preliminary discussions with the Pac-12 Conference about acquiring the rights to stream live sports.

According to insiders from The Wall Street Journal, Apple’s Eddy Cue met with Larry Scott to discuss a rights deal for the full slate of sports programming from 2024, valued at $5 billion, including PAC-12’s cable channels. The talks were mixed, with Cue reportedly unhappy with the specifics of the deal, as Apple would only gain rights to some games. Cue also admitted that, even if he managed to secure the rights, he’d need to show at least some games on traditional broadcast TV to appease fans, which would go against the remit of bringing sports programming to Apple TV.

Although the Apple TV set-top box and the dedicated Apple TV app allows you to set reminders for upcoming games and receive notifications when one of your favorite teams score, Apple’s relationship with sport has been limited, outside of sponsorships and the Apple Watch. The firm has been working to attract sports fans to the platform, however, most recently acquiring the rights to a basketball-themed drama series for Apple TV+, produced by Thirty-Five Ventures.

In early June 2020, Apple made it clear that it planned to enter into the field, hiring Amazon alumni James DeLorenzo to head up a new sports division for the company. The hiring of the exec, who served as head of sport for Amazon Video, as well as senior vice president at Audible, offers concrete evidence that live sports content will be streamed by Apple TV+ in the months and years ahead, and Apple is leaning on DeLorenzo’s expertise to attract more subscribers.

During his time at Amazon, DeLorenzo was responsible for securing a multi-year extension to the Prime Video broadcast partnership with the National Football League (NFL) for Thursday Night Football streaming rights, and in March, the company agreed on a deal with YES to stream 21 New York Yankees games on its Prime Video service during the 2020 Major League Baseball (MLB) season. Back in 2018, DeLorenzo helped Amazon win the rights to the Premier League – a deal worth $114 million through the 2021/22 season.

Although the appointment of DeLorenzo doesn’t mean that Apple will start churning out new sports-related content overnight or bidding millions of dollars for rights to upcoming football and basketball seasons, it does mean that Apple is on a new trajectory. After winning over the childrens’ market with Fraggle Rock, Ghostwriter, and Helpsters and moms with shows like Hala, The Elephant Queen, and The Morning Show, a transition to sport could offer the leverage Apple needs to persuade men – often chief breadwinners and payer of subscription services – a reason to choose Apple TV+ over rival subscription services like Amazon Prime.

Do you think Apple should introduce sport to TV+? Let us know and check back soon for more.

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