Apple TV+ Is Looking Into Streaming More Live Sports

It’s been reported Apple TV+ is interested in acquiring the media rights to Pac-12 sporting events. The current rights agreement expires in 2023-24. Pac -12 is the only “Power 5” conference without a media rights agreement beyond next season. Besides Apple TV+, other potential landing spots for the Pac-12 include ESPN and Fox Sports. Both networks had been televising Pac-12 games and allowed their exclusive negotiating window to expire last October. It’s also been reported that Amazon Prime Video has been expressing some interest.

A reason for the tepid response has been the decision of football (and basketball) powerhouses UCLA and the University of Southern California to leave the Pac-12 for the Big-10 beginning in August 2024. In addition, both schools are located in Los Angeles, the second largest TV market in the country. It is unknown whether the remaining schools in the Pac-12 would be interested in shifting from a TV to a streaming rights agreement. Currently, the cost for Pac-12 sports has with ESPN and Fox is $250 million annually over 12 years.

Of late, Apple TV+ has shown an interest in streaming live sports. Last season, Apple TV+ began exclusively streaming an MLB doubleheader every Friday which will continue next month. Last month, Apple TV+ started to exclusively live stream MLS games in a ten-year, $2.5 billion global agreement. Non-Apple TV subscribers would pony up $99 for the MLS “Season Pass”, for Apple TV+ subscribers the cost is $79. The MLS will produce each game. Similarly, the Pac-12 Network, a cable network, could aid in the production of games with Apple TV+.

Additionally, it was reported that Apple TV+ also bid on the rights to NFL’s Sunday Ticket. While at one point considered the frontrunner in negotiations, the package to stream out-of-market NFL games wound up at YouTube, in a seven-year agreement at a cost of $2 billion per annum.

Speculation of Apple’s interest in streaming Pac-12 games comes at a time when the other “Power 5” college conferences have locked down long-term media rights agreements into the next decade. Here is the status of current and upcoming media rights agreements.

In December 2020, ESPN struck a ten-year agreement with the Southeastern Conference. The deal kicks-in with the 2024 football season. ESPN will have exclusive rights to SEC football replacing CBS. Marquee matchups will be available on ABC airing in late Saturday afternoon or on primetime, ABC will also televise the SEC championship game in December. Other conference games will air on ESPN2, ESPNU, SEC Network and ESPN+ will stream non-conference matchups.

With the new agreement, ESPN will be paying $300 million per annum, in a ten-year $3 billion agreement expiring in 2034. CBS, which has televised SEC games since 1996, was paying $55 million each year and selected the top game every weekend to televise. The SEC, a football powerhouse for years, will get even more competitive with the addition of the “Red River Rivalry” schools, Texas and Oklahoma in 2024, bringing the conference to 16 schools.

The new media agreement with the Big-10 conference begins in the fall of 2023. Over the next seven seasons, Fox, CBS and NBC will collectively be paying over $1 billion in media rights every year. Hence, three Big-10 football games will be aired on broadcast television each Saturday. Beginning with Fox (kick-off Noon ET), followed by CBS (kick-off 3:30 p.m. ET) and then NBC (kick-off 7:30 p.m. ET). Other games will be available on cable’s FS1, Big Ten Network and streamed on Peacock. With the addition of UCLA and Southern California, the Big Ten will also have 16 schools. The expiring six-year agreement the Big Ten has with Fox and Disney cost $440 million per annum.

In October 2022, the Big-12 conference announced a new media rights agreement with incumbents ESPN and Fox. The new six-year agreement is valued at $2.28 billion, an average annual cost of $380 million. Under the current 13-year agreement which expires in 2025, ESPN and Fox collectively paid $200 million to the conference each year. The new agreement runs through the 2031 school year. With the departure of Texas and Oklahoma, the Big-12 have added Brigham Young, Central Florida, Cincinnati and Houston effective this July. This will bring the conference to 14 members.

The present media rights of the ACC will expire in 2035. Under the agreement, Disney televises games on ABC, ESPN, ESPN2 and ESPNU at $240 million annually. Other games are available on the ACC Network.

While these media rights negotiations cover a number of college sports, Jeff Nelson, the president of Navigate, told USA Today, “The rule of thumb is that football drove 80-85% of the rights. It is now 85-90%,”. Nelson continues, “With the way football produces the type of viewership numbers, it is more crucial to have football rights.” Adding further value of college football is the expansion of the College Football Playoffs from four schools to 12 starting in 2024-25.

As Apple TV+ dips its toe into live streaming sports with their natural ad breaks, The Information reported they have hired Lauren Fry, a television and streaming video ad executive, to launch an ad supported tier. Lauren Fry was the chief revenue officer at Simulmedia and had previously been in the ad sales department at AT&TT
and ComcastCMCSA
. Unlike most of their streaming competition, Apple TV+ at present, has no ad tier.