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MLS Season Pass Review: Apple's First Step Shows Promise, but It's a Pass From Me

Apple's new soccer service works well, but it's expensive and doesn't offer enough for fans of local teams.

Bobby Oliver
8 min read
MLS Season Pass on Apple TV

MLS Season Pass on Apple TV.

Bobby Oliver/CNET

Major League Soccer has returned for its 28th season and the biggest news this year isn't the (once again) reworked playoff system or the massive Leagues Cup coming this summer, but the introduction of the MLS Season Pass on Apple TV

After spending the past two weekends watching MLS on Apple TV, I think the service leaves a lot to be desired. While it's fantastic that every game is available so easily without the worry of local games being "blacked out," it has become a hard sell to convince people to sign up for yet another streaming service, especially one that starts at a hefty $13 per month.

Having grown up alongside MLS I've seen it change quite a bit throughout the years, from growing ever larger in the number of teams (this year's newest addition is a club in St. Louis) and endlessly changing the playoffs to having a team finally win the CONCACAF Champions League (thank you, Seattle). 

Apple's Season Pass is by far the biggest change for fans of the league, however, and one that may see many fans who don't pay the subscription feeling isolated from their teams. There are no blackouts, but it comes at the expense of having no local home broadcasting of any kind.

All told, Apple's first pass at MLS works well, but I still see plenty of room for improvement.

The cost

If you're an Apple TV Plus subscriber, you'll pay either $13 a month or $79 for the year for Season Pass. If you don't have Apple's streaming video service, that price jumps to $15 a month or $99 for the season. It's available in over 100 countries, at similar prices (it's £13 a month or £79 a season in the UK, for example).

The Season Pass subscription gives fans access to every game this season with no blackouts. Whereas other blanket sports services like MLB.TV and NBA League Pass prevent you from watching your local team or national games, because everything is on Apple's service, all MLS action is available in one location. One subscription gets you the entire package (plus other events such as the Leagues Cup and MLS Next). It's a huge plus for this Apple-MLS arrangement. 

Team Pages on MLS Season Pass

Each team has its own page on MLS Season Pass, but there's no local coverage. 

Bobby Oliver/CNET

For those who don't want to pay, Apple is also making six matches free each week, with Fox still airing a handful of games as well throughout the year, including certain playoff matches, the MLS Cup and some Leagues Cup games. 

That said, it's now expensive to be a soccer fan in America, with the MLS Season Pass being the only way to consistently follow your favorite club. 

At the moment, the service does not justify its price tag and offers no major improvements to areas that ESPN Plus, Paramount Plus and Peacock have made commonplace for viewers over the years with higher-quality leagues. For now, those services are the better choice for the casual soccer fan whose priority is more than just the MLS. 

The MLS tab

When you open the Apple TV app (available on most major streaming platforms, Apple devices and the web), the MLS Season Pass is just another tab at the top of the app. You're immediately greeted with options to look at highlights of past games, add future matches to your Up Next page, or watch one of the service's many shows, such as MLS Review. Each club has its own page with highlights from past games and videos created by the clubs. 

It's a great way to get more information on a team if you're new to MLS, but parts of the experience do feel disjointed because each team is responsible for the media that it creates. 

MLS Season Pass Tab

The MLS Season Pass lives inside an MLS tab on Apple's TV app. 

Bobby Oliver/CNET

Take the club profiles. LAFC's is 31 minutes long and truly feels like a Hollywood production. Meanwhile, Real Salt Lake's is a single minute and feels like a quick promo video. So packaging these as one show feels like an afterthought that was added to say that the service has more content than it really does at launch.  

Those looking to get a taste of what happened in the league during the last match week can take a look at the MLS Wrap-Up where analysts and former players discuss each game and its biggest moments. Hosts for Week 1 included former players such as Taylor Twellman and Sacha Kljestan as well as sports commentator Liam McHugh, whose previous work includes Sunday Night Football and the NHL for NBC Sports. 

At the moment it's a good way to stay connected with the game, but for now, it doesn't go above and beyond what other leagues have had for years.

The game day experience

MLS Season Pass on Apple TV game

The MLS stream is sharp at 1080p. 

Bobby Oliver/CNET

Each match has its own pregame and postgame show, which are fine for getting caught up, but nothing more. Before the first game on a Wednesday or Saturday, there's the MLS Countdown show, which feels very similar to the MLS Wrap-Up, it just occurs before the matches. 

When it comes to the shows on match day, there are still some kinks to be worked out. Both the MLS Countdown and MLS Wrap-Up shows lack a bit of character. The way hosts of the Golazo Show and ESPN FC banter with each other is what makes those shows so great and worth watching for fans.

So far, the banter in the MLS equivalents hasn't felt genuine. I hope that with time this changes but the shows just aren't that engaging to me. It would be great if they responded to fan questions on-air, as that allows viewers to feel more involved with the content. The Golazo and ESPN FC crews feel more like a group of friends rather than analysts brought in to cover the sport.

Unlike NFL RedZone, which is the NFL's whip-around show led by one host, MLS 360 features a large group of hosts and analysts, which includes McHugh, Kljestan, Kaylyn Kyle, Bradley Wright-Phillips and the rules expert Christina Unkel. MLS 360 lets you simultaneously watch all the day's games and catch the biggest moments from each one. The show switches between matches with live scores being displayed from each concurrent match. While that's happening you also have the hosts from the Countdown and Wrap-Up show reacting live to each game. 

These types of shows are not my favorite, and this is no exception. There have been times when the hosts distract from the game rather than add to the experience, in my opinion. When Thiago Almada scored the winning goal in stoppage time for Atlanta United against San Jose, it could have made a big deal of Atlanta's incredible crowd. It would have been great marketing, showing how passionate MLS fans can be. But the team at MLS 360 was much louder, didn't add to my excitement, and made me want to switch over to the actual stream of the game. I understand why some fans love this type of show, and maybe if they refine it I will give it another go myself.

Apple MLS Season Pass Game
Bobby Oliver/CNET

This will take some time to get used to, but it's great that each game has an English and Spanish broadcast, as well as French for teams from Canada. At the moment though, nothing in particular stands out as special once a game gets started. I didn't see the commentators standing in the box going over lineups, something that will be especially missed from local broadcasts, as they know the teams and viewers best. It just feels like your average nationally televised game, with very little extra going for it. 

The video quality of the stream, however, is great and may be one of the best streams of 1080p that I have ever seen running consistently without issue. It's a stark difference from the quality you see on Fox and is a huge plus in my book. 

That said, there are some things that are still out of the hands of Apple. For example, while watching Charlotte versus New England, the camera was far too wide for much of the game, making it difficult to follow the action. At one point there was a significant audio issue, which was confirmed by a friend also watching the match. 

When the second match day came around this past weekend it was more of the same. The stream still looked stellar, and without any of the issues I noticed during match day 1. Besides that, there weren't many noticeable improvements to the service overall. I still did not find many of the larger live shows all that engaging and was just there for the soccer. Furthermore, once halftime arrived there was generic analysis but little in terms of the commentators talking to the fans and getting them excited about the next half of play. The same ads played drearily on repeat.

Another disappointing aspect of the broadcast was the extremely generic scoreboard that lacks any league identity. MLS wants to create a recognizable brand similar to that of the Premier League, Bundesliga, La Liga or other large leagues across the globe. But with a scoreboard that looks like it was taken from a stock image site, it makes it hard for me to get excited. When I see the UEFA Champions League scoreboard, it makes it feel like a unique experience and adds gravitas to what I'm watching. Apple's extremely clean aesthetic just does not do it for me.

Where Apple can improve

Apple MLS Season Pass Up Next Tab

There are more ways for Apple to improve Season Pass. 

Bobby Oliver/CNET

Apple has an extraordinary opportunity to turn this service into the ultimate fan zone. This is why I'm disappointed that it has yet to bring so many simple additions that other services have had for years. First, where's the "catch up with the important plays" button? Peacock has made this so easy that it's jarring not to be able to jump into a game at halftime now and be caught up on each goal or an early red card. 

Second, I would love to see a section of the MLS Wrap-Up specifically where they respond to social media and reactions similar to how TNT's Inside the NBA engages with fans on its telecasts. I think this is one of the biggest successes of the soccer shows on Paramount and ESPN, and makes both really enjoyable and engaging.

Third, where's the Android app? Yes, Android users can still watch matches on their phones if they go to Apple TV on their browser. This really should not have to be the case though, and further alienates people from the league.

Finally, I want my stats. Stat overlay has been around forever and executed very well on MLB.TV for example. It would be helpful to get live updates on possession, expected goals, distance ran and everything else that shows the swing of a match. 

For now, I would say pass on MLS Season Pass. It offers enough free games to make not subscribing but still following doable, and you can still watch your favorite teams' Open Cup and possibly CONCACAF Champions League runs elsewhere. If you want a soccer fix, I would look towards Peacock and Paramount Plus for better coverage and a higher level of play overall. 

I love the MLS, but without a dedicated subscription option just to watch your local team, I find the price much too steep. Hopefully, Apple and MLS expand their options and increase the value proposition to really show other leagues the power that Apple can have in sports.