Apple, MLS Pull Back the Curtain on Live-Production Plans for New MLS Season Pass Streaming Service

NEP Group, IMG Productions are at the heart of live game and studio productions

With the kickoff of the MLS season less than two weeks away, Apple and Major League Soccer have unveiled their live–event-production plans for the new MLS Season Pass subscription service on Apple TV. Apple and MLS have partnered with NEP Group and IMG Productions to produce more than 950 matches representing more than 2,000 hours of live coverage in a mix of English, Spanish, and French, as well as a trio of new live studio programs on MLS Season Pass.

NEP Group is overseeing all broadcast services and providing all mobile units, technical crew, and operations; remote- and decentralized- production support; studio facilities in NYC; and infrastructure and systems management. IMG, meanwhile, is handling all live match and studio-show production; overseeing editorial tone, look, and feel and production enhancements, producer/director staffing, and production management and talent logistics.

“MLS Season Pass is a global project that required assembling a team of the most talented and accomplished leaders in every aspect of the broadcasting industry from all over the world,” says Gary Stevenson, deputy commissioner, Major League Soccer/ president, MLS Business Ventures. “Our focus, with our partner Apple, is delivering an exceptional level of quality and storytelling that entertains and engages MLS’s passionate fans, improves their experience, and engages new fans through the reach of Apple and MLS Season Pass.”

Live Match Coverage: 1080p Video, Dolby 5.1 Audio for Every Match

Every match of the MLS regular season, MLS Cup Playoffs, and Leagues Cup will be produced in 1080p with Dolby 5.1 audio and will feature more total cameras on each game and new camera angles, enhanced data elements, and enhanced storytelling around the clubs and players. In addition, a new graphics package featuring a consistent look across the board will bring MLS clubs and their brands to the forefront and incorporate storylines, stats, and advanced data visualizations.

Live coverage of all MLS and Leagues Cup matches will be produced at MLS stadiums, including onsite English and Spanish talent, using NEP’s fleet of production units to produce simultaneous coverage of up to 14 matches each game night.

In addition to MLS and Leagues Cup matches, the new service will carry 250+ MLS Next Pro regular-season matches, the MLS Next Pro Playoffs and Cup, and 100 MLS Next elite-youth tournament matches. These games will also be produced in 1080p with full custom graphics packages (though not with enhanced data or Dolby 5.1 audio). The majority of these MLS Next Pro and MLS Next matches will be produced remotely at NEP’s Vista Worldlink centralized-production facility in Miami.

In addition, NEP will leverage its centralized-production facilities in New York, Miami, Dallas, Los Angeles, and Washington to serve the various needs of MLS Season Pass. In addition, NEP is providing its Mediabank media-asset-management solution for the MLS Season Pass production team to efficiently access content from archived matches. NEP’s various companies are also playing big roles, including Bexel and CT Technologies for studio equipment and LED boards.

MLS is no stranger to NEP, its broadcast-services partner of more 22 years, or IMG, a production partner for more than a decade. Two years ago, the league reached out to both organizations about the possibility of producing all live match and studio programming beginning in 2023 as part of its upcoming new rights deals. When MLS came calling last summer, both partners were ready to hit the ground running.

Besides NEP and IMG, other key vendors are involved: AT&T for venue transmission, Vizrt for all graphics, Sportec Solutions for advanced data, IMG Arena for sports betting, deltatre for data interface, and TGI for virtual technology.

Among the key leaders spearheading the production and operations efforts for the project are Royce Dickerson, executive producer of live sports, Apple; Mike Werteen, global president, NEP Broadcast Services; and Barney Francis, EVP, IMG (which has produced every Premier League match for more than 200 rightsholders outside the UK for the past three decades).

Live Studio Shows: MLS 360, MLS Countdown, MLS Wrap-Up

Live studio programming will be created at a newly rebuilt production facility in New York City, where a trio of brand-new studios will serve as central hub for all MLS Season Pass studio programming.

That programming will primarily involve three shows: MLS 360 live whip-around show, MLS Countdown pregame show, and MLS Wrap-Up postgame show.

The new MLS 360 provides live look-ins from every match, showcasing every goal, penalty kick, and big save and providing analysis and discussion throughout each match night.

MLS Countdown pregame shows will be available in English and Spanish prior to every single match; MLS Wrap-Up offers a full recap of the day’s action with live postgame coverage available in English and Spanish.

in addition to the three primary shows, fans can also tune in to dedicated studio programming to preview weekly matchups, dissect key moments, and access stories from around the league.

VOD and Original Content: Showcasing the Traditions and Culture of Each Club 

MLS Season Pass launched on Feb. 1 and already features more than 4,000 pieces of VOD content, including a vast library of MLS classics, historic and current match replays, highlights, and club-produced content that will be updated weekly.

Individual clubs will team up with the league and its partners to play a major role in the production of original content for MLS Season Pass. Key original content initiatives for MLS Season Pass will include Apple’s new The Ritual docuseries (focusing on the traditions and culture of each club), club and player profiles, club icons and classic moments, academy reports, team reports, player interviews, match previews, MLS Next Pro reports, and community reports.

Live-Streaming Experience: 80+ Announcers, Consistent Match Times, No Blackouts

Calling the action and managing studio duties on MLS Season Pass will be a mix of more than 80 announcers and soccer legends (roughly 60 per week) presenting in English and Spanish, plus French for matches involving Canadian clubs. This represents one of the largest collections of on-air talent by a single network or service covering soccer and any major sports league. In addition to these audio feeds, fans in the U.S. and Canada will have the option to select their home team’s radio broadcast for audio on the Apple TV app where available.

MLS Season Pass will also feature more-consistent match times this season. In previous years, MLS games have had 63 kickoff days and times. On MLS Season Pass, nearly all games will be played on Saturdays and selected Wednesdays with 7:30 p.m. local start times — plus no blackouts regardless of the viewer’s geographic location (a first in live sports broadcasting, according to MLS). In addition to providing consistency, this allows MLS to be more flexible in moving high-profile key matchups to the best possible window.

MLS Season Pass is available to fans in more than 100 countries and regions and is on billions of devices through the Apple TV app on Apple devices, Smart TVs, streaming devices, set-top boxes, game consoles, and the web at MLS Season Pass costs $12.99/month or $79/season for existing Apple TV+ subscribers and $14.99/month or $99/season for non-subscribers. Each full-season account will include one subscription to the MLS Season Pass on Apple TV (one per account). With Family Sharing, up to six family members can access the subscription, each member having their own Apple ID and password.

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