The future of Major League Soccer broadcasting arrives on Wednesday.
A decade-long, $2.5 billion partnership between MLS and Apple will give birth to a new streaming broadcast platform, MLS Season Pass, and it launches Wednesday to much fanfare, as well as questions about how the subscription streaming service works.
MLS, its clubs, and Apple have spent the last few months stocking up on broadcast talent, original content and spreading the word about how the top-flight of soccer in the U.S. and Canada is essentially departing from traditional TV networks, save for a handful of matches this coming season.
Gone are the days of blacked-out games and headaches trying to consume the league's matches, MLS and Apple say. Here's what you can expect from MLS Season Pass in Year One.
MLS Season Pass: What you need to know
The 2023 MLS regular season kicks off Feb. 25. For FC Cincinnati, and that means a home-opener against Houston Dynamo at TQL Stadium in less than a month. Every other club commences the new campaign that day, too. MLS Season Pass will offer subscribers multiple avenues for keeping tabs on each match as they are played − and more.
The first thing you'll need to do is log into the Apple TV app.
For season ticket holders across the league, each ticket account will receive one free subscription per account. For FC Cincinnati supporters, season ticket members will receive an email from FCC with a unique redemption code on Wednesday. It's the only way season-ticket members can access their free subscription, team officials said.
While there's just one redemption code per ticketing account as opposed to one code per seat purchased with that account, an MLS official noted to The Enquirer that up to six family members can share a subscription to MLS Season Pass by using the app's Family Sharing feature.
To share the subscription, each person will require a unique Apple ID. Apple recommends each user create one of those anyway for privacy reasons (sharing an Apple ID can unintentionally reveal personal text messages, health details, and other information) if you don't already have one.
Here's another common concern: What if multiple people on the same season-ticket account want to watch a match separately? It's reasonable to think that would happen for away matches, for instance. That's fine, because an Apple TV+ subscription allows you to have up six simultaneous streams.
What if I'm not a season-ticket holder?
If you are already an Apple TV+ subscriber, the MLS Season Pass subscription service will cost $12.99/month or $79/season.
If you are not an Apple TV+ subscriber: $14.99/month or $99/season.
MLS Season Pass can be accessed via a multitude of devices that are wifi compatible, including: iPhone, iPad, Mac, AirPlay, streaming devices, smart TV's, gaming consoles, cable and satellite receivers and on the web.
Once you're logged in
When the season kicks off Feb. 25, Season Pass will carry every MLS regular season and playoff match, the MLS Cup final, and every games in the first iteration of the Leagues Cup.
In one of the long-awaited features MLS fans have asked for, Season Pass will have a live, "whip-around" show. The broadcast will feature highlights from all ongoing matches and has been likened to NFL RedZone.
Season Pass will offer some MLS Next Pro games for the league's burgeoning reserve league. It will also offer MLS Next matches for academy-level games.
Game replays, highlights, and analysis will also be available.
Each MLS club will also have a dedicated "team room" featuring some of the above-mentioned offerings in addition to club-created content and news conferences.
The interface of MLS Season Pass should be familiar to many MLS fans. Some have said it's akin to ESPN+, which was a portal that carried the league's matches for years through 2022.
The on-air talent and challenges ahead
Over two separate waves of January announcements, MLS unveiled a team of nearly 50 broadcasters who will help deliver the content. Some of the people involved of are widely-known commodities, including ex-players-turned-analysts such as Brian Dunseth, Danny Higginbotham, Cobi Jones, Sébastien Le Toux, Bradley Wright-Phillips, Taylor Twellman and others.
Names such as Jillian Sakovits (studio host, Atlanta United), Frederic Lord (play-by-play, CF Montreal), Jake Zivin (play-by-play, Portland Timbers) and Max Bretos (play-by-play, LAFC) were plucked from local markets to join the Season Pass team.
These people have joined in the undertaking of launching the new platform with what's been referred to as a "short runway" to Wednesday's launch.
"Short runway" was also a phrase used to describe FC Cincinnati's own onboarding process into MLS, and the club consequently faced a litany of challenges over several years as a result of rushing into the league. Similarly, some pundits and media critics foresee challenges for MLS Season Pass as it looks to get off the ground for the 2023 season.
The on-air personalities aren't in question at all. What's potentially at issue are the logistics and technical wherewithal for scaling up an operation with the needs MLS Season Pass will have. Doing so from scratch in the months since the MLS-Apple deal was first announced is a very big undertaking. No one is pointing to specific hiccups yet but they are anticipated eventually.
What happened to the local Cincinnati broadcast flavor?
Local TV arrangements across the MLS markets were scrapped as a result of the Apple partnership. That was a development felt more acutely in Cincinnati because of how important linear TV was to the club and its identity in its early days, but FC Cincinnati still has some control over its in-market media presence via radio.
Not only is the team expected to soon reveal details about a radio broadcast deal with iHeartRadio but Tom Gelehrter, the long-time broadcast play-by-play voice of FC Cincinnati, appears primed to return in 2023 via radio.
Gelehrter confirmed to The Enquirer he won't be part of the Season Pass roster of talent but is looking forward to his future and expects an announcement soon.
Many fans have inquired about Gelehrter's status with FCC broadcasts as he's widely considered the voice of the team because he's called so many pivotal on-field moments in team history.
Adding to his viability to continue on with FCC, Gelehrter is fresh off working the FIFA men's World Cup in Qatar last autumn. There, he provided the FOX on-air team of Derek Rae and Aly Wagner with vital statistics and research.
Again, more information about the club's radio presence is expected soon. Look for Gelehrter to retain a prominent role in the FCC community.
This article originally appeared on Cincinnati Enquirer: MLS Season Pass launches on Apple TV today! Here's what to know