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Apple’s next move far from certain

By John Ourand

Apple cut a rights deal with MLB last week. Apple has emerged as the front-runner to land the NFL’s “Sunday Ticket” package as part of a deal that would see it take a stake in the NFL’s media business.

After a decade of fits and starts, it would appear that Apple finally has become a significant bidder for sports rights.

Right?

Apple’s sports ambitions are not as clear as it may seem. It’s far from certain that any of these digital companies will figure out a business plan to make these types of rights deals profitable.

I talked to several sports and media executives in the aftermath of Apple’s MLB announcement last week. Each of them described the company as “serious” when it comes to bidding on sports rights. But each of them also cautioned that Apple is in a testing phase when it comes to sports.

It is trying to learn the business. And despite its deep pockets, the company still has some trepidation when it comes to bidding on expensive live rights.

Apple has found some success streaming on-demand entertainment content via AppleTV+. When it starts its MLB Friday night doubleheader, it’s going to find that, from a technical standpoint, it’s much harder to livestream sports events.

League executives hold this view, too. Take Amazon Prime, for example, which has carried “Thursday Night Football” since 2017, simulcasting games with a broadcast network and NFL Network. The NFL essentially auditioned Amazon for five years, making sure that it could handle the technical aspects of livestreaming before awarding it a deal to carry “TNF” exclusively.

The questions many in the business have are: How long will it take Apple to perfect livestreaming and how can these deals become profitable for them?

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