MLS finalizing Apple TV talent, owners consider best-of-three playoff format: Sources

Major League Soccer is finalizing its roster of play-by-play and color commentators who will serve as talent for its MLS Season Pass broadcasts on Apple TV, according to multiple sources with knowledge of the situation.

Those sources spoke on condition of anonymity to preserve their relationship with MLS executives. Former ESPN commentator Taylor Twellman, who announced last week that he was leaving the network, is among the broadcasters who have reached agreements with MLS.

Others expected to be on that list, or in various stages of discussions, include play-by-play commentators Keith Costigan, Ed Cohen, Steve Cangialosi, Tyler Terens, Eric Krakauer and Kevin Egan. Color commentators include Brian Dunseth, Lloyd Sam, Kyndra de St. Aubin, Ross Smith, Tony Meola and Jamie Watson. Former MLS players Maurice Edu, Bradley Wright-Phillips and Sacha Kljestan were also in advanced talks with MLS, the sources said.

UPDATE: MLS confirmed in a press release on Tuesday the following talent has been signed: Max Bretos, Steve Cangialosi, Jake Zivin, Pablo Ramirez (Spanish), Frederic Lord (French) for play-by-play, match analysts: Kyndra de St. Aubin, Maurice Edu, Lori Lindsey, Danielle Slaton, Taylor Twellman, Marcelo Balboa (Spanish), Sebastien Le Toux (French), Sacha Kljestan, Bradley Wright-Phillips, Diego Valeri (Spanish) and studio hosts: Liam McHugh, Jillian Sakovits, Tony Cherchi (Spanish).

MLS is expected to unveil at least some of the talent as part of a preseason media event in California on Tuesday. Other broadcasters not mentioned above will be included in the full list of commentators. Of the final group of commentators, some will be guaranteed a minimum number of games over the course of the season, while others will have more flexible arrangements.

Some famous names who have been told they won’t be part of the main thrust of the initial coverage, but could appear in some capacity down the road, include JP Dellacamera, Dave Johnson, and Shep Messing.

Several sources said there is some concern about how much is up in the air this close to the season, which kicks off in 47 days on February 25. The league has opted to turn production of games over to sports media giant IMG, sources said, and multiple sources said IMG has hired John McGuinness, who has worked on NHL and Olympics broadcasts, as one of its top manufacturers for MLS.

The league and Apple announced a 10-year, $2.5 billion broadcast deal last June that will see the tech giant air every single MLS regular season and playoff game on its Apple TV streaming service starting this season. However, most of those games will be shown on the MLS Season Pass subscription service more than 40 percent of them will be available for free.

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The league previously announced that the Season Pass app will cost $12.99 per month or $79 per season for those already subscribed to Apple TV+, and $14.99 per month or $99 per season for non-subscribers. MLS season ticket holders receive one free subscription to the service per account.

The new Season Pass app will also include a significant amount of club-created content on channels called, “Club Rooms.” According to an internal league document obtained by The Athletics this week, those clubrooms require specific content before and during the season, including club profiles, player profiles and a fan/culture-specific feature called, “The Ritual.” Those channels will also feature videos on club “legends”, team traditions and big games in the team’s history, as well as weekly and monthly content during the season, including first team reports, player interviews, MLS Next Pro and academy reports and community reports.

MLS will also simulcast games on linear TV: 34 regular season and eight postseason games will be broadcast on Fox networks, 21 Leagues Cup games will be shown on Univision/UniMás/TUDN in the US and a significant number games will be shown on TSN and RDS in Canada.

League considers best-of-three series for playoffs

MLS is considering changing its playoff format to include a best-of-three series in the first round, multiple sources said The Athletics.

If accepted, it is likely that only the first round will be contested as a best-of-three contest. The sources, who were not authorized to speak publicly about the proposed changes, said the rest of the playoff tournament is likely to be single-elimination. The proposed format would be divided by conference and would include 16 teams, eight each from the East and the West.

The sources did not know the exact details of how the potential best-of-three series would be contested, but several noted that MLS used the format in the first two rounds of the playoffs during its early years. In that series, the first team to reach five points advanced, with extra time added to the third game if the teams tied with three or four points.

The sources said the best-of-three proposal was now more likely to be accepted than the previously discussed proposal that would have changed the play-off format to include group and knockout stages. That suggestion was revealed by The Athletics In October.

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As reported by The Athletics in October, MLS wants to increase the total number of playoff games from the 13 participating in 2022 to around 30. The sources said the league wants to do so in part so it can increase its overall inventory of playoff games in the first year of its new media rights deal.

Competing eight best-of-three series in the first round before moving to a single-elimination format in the conference semifinals would give MLS between 23 and 31 total playoff games.

The sources said the format that would include group and knockout stages is now more of a long shot than a best-of-three proposition because the league does not want to end up in a situation where teams will play a group stage. game that would have no bearing on which teams advance to the knockout round.

The sources also cautioned that none of the proposed new playoff formats have been approved. League owners must sign off on the changes before the season opener on Feb. 25 for them to take effect in 2023.

Sources are optimistic that MLS will allow intra-league transfers

Momentum is building within MLS for the establishment of an intra-league transfer market, with some sources telling The Athletics that such a mechanism could be introduced as soon as this summer.

Currently, MLS teams are not allowed to buy/sell players to/from other MLS teams for cash. They can trade it for grant money, but it’s not an actual currency, just an MLS budget device. The policy made sense during the league’s turbulent beginnings, when some owners controlled multiple teams, but MLS has grown to the point where a single market could easily be beneficial. There was some concern about the creation of new territories where teams would have to pay training fees to fellow MLS clubs due to internal sales. Those payments are avoided with trades. There were also questions about how it would be carried out legally, because all players are contracted to MLS, not the specific clubs, and so it’s not technically a sale between clubs. The sources were not clear how these questions would be answered should an intra-league transfer market be introduced.

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Allowing teams to buy and sell players internally would create an additional revenue stream for selling clubs and add another mechanism to keep talented players in the league.

The sources were not sure how exactly an intra-league transfer market would work if one were adopted. One source expected only players already paying more than the maximum budget levy ($651,250 in 2023) or those whose new teams plan to immediately give them a contract that would take their salary above the maximum budget levy, for intra-league transfers would qualify. That same source expected intra-league transfer fees to count in a team’s budget in the same way in the current system; the buying team will amortize the fee and add it to the player’s salary to generate its budget charge, while the selling team can either pocket the cash or convert at least a portion of it into general award money.

The introduction of an intra-league transfer market was a very popular idea in The Athletics‘s anonymous 2022 survey of MLS executiveswith 21 out of 21 managers surveyed saying they want the league to allow it.

“Most successful leagues, the most active transfer market is internal,” said one manager. “By definition, when I want to sell a player, I cut off a potential channel to sell. It does not make sense. And it’s not just that the bigger clubs are going to buy from the smaller clubs. If a big club wants to go and get a DP better than the one they currently have, another club might take that (big club’s current) DP. They might say, ‘I know him, he’s in the league, and I’d rather pay to get him than go to South America and try something less certain.’ I just see several benefits. And why wouldn’t we?”

“Yes, of course. One hundred percent (we should have one),” added another. “I don’t get it. Why, if there’s a really good player, who fits really well in the league, should he have the leaves league if a club can’t offer a better contract or wants to sell? Why can’t another team buy him as a DP? Or if a team like Salt Lake has occupied all three DPs and they can’t a player like (Damir) Kreilach doesn’t make a DP and they have to sell the player, but we can’t buy him. Why? Why let players walk instead of creating a new market?”

(Photo: Bill Barrett/ISI Photos/Getty Images)


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