Apple exec Eddy Cue at a 2014 Golden State Warriors game. Nov 11, 2014; Oakland, CA, USA; Apple senior vice president of internet software & services Eddy Cue during halftime between the Golden State Warriors and the San Antonio Spurs at Oracle Arena. The Spurs defeated the Warriors 113-100. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

There hasn’t been a lot from Apple on how their 10-year, $2.5 billion deal with Major League Soccer to broadcast all games on MLS Season Pass is working out for them. After senior vice president (services) Eddy Cue spoke to reporters briefly via video conference Thursday, there still isn’t a lot; Cue (seen above at a Golden State Warriors game in 2014) only gave a three-minute statement, with much of that positive but not specific, and didn’t take questions. But, as Jonathan Tannenwald of The Philadelphia Inquirer writes, Cue did say some interesting things:

Here’s more from that piece by Tannenwald:

“I’m very proud and happy with what we’ve accomplished so far, but I am sure that the best is yet to come,” Cue said in a videoconference with media outlets including The Inquirer. “It’s been a great few months for such a quick turnaround. So I’m incredibly proud of everyone on our team, everyone in the league — the teams, players, and owners have been instrumental in making this a huge success to start the season.”

…“We’re in year one of a 10-year partnership, so this is just the beginning, but we’re off to a great start with subscriptions and viewership,” he said. “We don’t share specific subscription numbers, but I can tell you we’re certainly doing much better than we had forecasted.”

…“I get a lot of great feedback from users,” he said. “I’ve had a lot of fun texting with owners and players on the weekends, giving me real-time feedback and ideas on how to make Season Pass even better, and we’re listening.”

While it makes sense that an executive in Year One of a 10-year deal is going to say largely positive things (especially if they don’t need to provide data to support those comments or answer questions), having Cue on the record here is still notable compared to the silence from the Apple ranks before this. And that’s especially true considering the March report from Paul Tenorio and Pablo Maurer of The Athletic that Apple has an opt-out clause if subscriptions don’t hit a certain level.

MLS figures like commissioner Don Garber (in that last-linked piece from The Athletic) have always emphasized the 10-year nature of this. But it’s notable to get on-the-record comments on that from Apple’s side, and to hear comments like “incredibly proud,” “happy,” and “doing much better than we had forecasted.” Everything can always change in sports, of course, and public comments alone are certainly not enough to prevent a reversal. But it is notable to have an Apple exec saying positive things rather than nothing. (And there were some actually-notable details in here, too, including that Apple is set to launch a pass for the second half of the season for $49, or $39 for those who already subscribe to Apple TV+.)

The three-minute statement and lack of questions taken here come with their own concerns, though. Yes, it was absolutely worth it for participating media to get on-the-record comments from Cue even under these unusual conditions; those comments are notable, especially in comparison to Apple’s general silence to date. But it’s worth wondering why Apple is being so reticent on this, to the point of refusing to comment at all for so long and then doing so with just a statement and no questions.

Even highly-criticized figures like league commissioners generally take questions. And they can always no comment the ones they don’t want to answer. (And in some cases, they might be better off doing so). So Apple’s strategy here of declining all comment for months, then responding with a three-minute statement to media with no questions stands out as unusual for the sports space. Some of it may be just their general policies and approach; they’re a tech company, not a traditional media company, and they seem to place a high value on secrecy, internal data, and not telegraphing future moves. So that’s not necessarily inherently terrible for MLS.

But this comes around the context of a variety 0f promotions designed to get more MLS Season Pass signups, including a free trial month partway through this season, two different windows of a free season pass for T-Mobile users, and more. (And along those lines, is Apple really doing “much better than we had forecasted” if they chose to offer a free trial month partway through the year?) And it comes around a lot of uncertainty on how many people are actually subscribing to this service and watching these matches. In that context, Apple’s reticence to say much is not confidence-boosting. It’s notable that Cue came out and said this much, but it’s also notable that he did so after months of no comment from Apple, and that he did so in a no-questions format. None of that necessarily suggests impending doom for the MLS-Apple partnership (indeed, if doom was actually imminent at this point, it’s highly unlikely Apple would have said anything), but the approach here does not provide complete reassurance that everything is, in fact, hunky-dory.

[The Philadelphia Inquirer; photo from Kyle Terada/USA Today Sports]

About Andrew Bucholtz

Andrew Bucholtz has been covering sports media for Awful Announcing since 2012. He is also a staff writer for The Comeback. His previous work includes time at Yahoo! Sports Canada and Black Press.