Apple has never really been involved with any live sports bidding, even as some of their competition (especially Amazon) have taken steps into the sports world.
According to a report today from Tripp Mickle in The Wall Street Journal, that changed earlier this year, when Apple’s head of services, Eddy Cue, met with Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott amidst the Pac-12’s ultimately scrapped effort to sell an equity stake in the conference’s rights package. Cue was apparently exploring the addition of some Pac-12 rights to add to their Apple TV+ over-the-top platform.
More recently, Mr. Cue met with Pac-12 Conference Commissioner Larry Scott about the conference’s effort to sell an equity stake in its media rights package, valued at up to $5 billion, that includes the Pac-12 Networks and all marquee football, basketball and live sports programming that is fully available in 2024, according to people familiar with the discussions. The conference includes the University of Southern California, the University of Oregon and Stanford University.
Mr. Cue has questioned the value of a deal with the Pac-12 because it would only give Apple rights to some games, people familiar with his thinking said. He also recognized that if Apple ever secured rights to all of the conference’s best programming, it would need to show some of those games on traditional, broadcast TV to satisfy fans.
As Mickle notes, Apple is looking at a variety of content options for Apple TV+, including talks for production studio MGM, which would give Apple control of things like the James Bond franchise.
Obviously if Apple is only interested in exclusivity, it’s going to be tough to negotiate for any league or conference rights. But considering the Pac-12’s current distribution woes, it does seem like there could be an audience interested in paying the Apple TV+ rate of $4.99/month in order to find some games they can’t get through their cable or satellite provider right now.
But considering the apparent reticence of both sides here, that feels unlikely. The more interesting takeaway is that Apple is at least interested in the world of live sports. No company has deeper pockets (Mickle notes that Apple currently sits on $206 billion in cash), and if they ever decided to get serious about rights when bigger deals come up for bid in the future (say, the NFL, which is up in a few years), that could make things very interesting for the traditional networks.