The first season of Friday Night Baseball MLB games on Apple TV+ sparked plenty of controversy last year, especially around Aaron Judge’s chase of Roger Maris’ AL home run record. That led to a lot of complaints from those who preferred watching games on their typical regional sports networks with their traditional local announcers (fair on some levels), and from also those who couldn’t figure out how to stream games on Apple TV+ (less fair). But one complaint that was not accurate last year was about a price barrier; in 2022, all MLB games on Apple TV+ were free, not requiring a subscription to that streaming service. Jacob Feldman of Sportico reported Wednesday that that’s changing for 2023, though:
Two significant bits of MLB/Apple TV news:
1. This year's Friday Night Baseball games will be exclusive to the $7/month Apple TV+ plan (they were freely available last year), but…
2. Games will also air in bars via DirecTV for Business pic.twitter.com/f77bZwRAiR
— ✏️Jacob Feldman (@JacobFeldman4) March 22, 2023
It obviously makes some sense for Apple to go to a pay model here. They have production costs, and they’re paying MLB for these rights, and most baseball broadcasts require some level of pay beyond just watching advertising (the exception is games on broadcast TV obtained over an antenna, but that’s far from the main way baseball broadcasts are aired or consumed). And Apple indicated even early last year that the free games would only be for a limited time; a whole season of free games wound up being longer than many expected initially. And we’ve seen many streaming services use the idea of free or lower-price trials to get people interested, then shifting the content to a paywall or a higher price: Apple TV+ itself had its first price hike since its 2019 launch last fall, going from $4.99 to $6.99 a month.
But it is certainly notable to see this jump. And it will be interesting to see if the complaints about MLB on Apple TV+ increase as a result. That definitely might be the case. But it might also be less of a big deal without it impacting a Judge home run chase (which, to be fair, brought up criticism for plenty of non-Apple broadcasters as well). It should also be noted that there is another option for fans to watch these Apple TV+ broadcasts without directly paying, as (as Feldman notes) DirecTV For Business announced Wednesday that these games will be available to the bars, restaurants, gyms and other establishments they serve. Here’s more on that from a release:
DIRECTV will deliver “Friday Night Baseball” — two marquee games on Fridays over 25 weeks during the regular MLB season — to its network of more than 300,000 restaurants, bars, hotel lounges, retail shops and other venues on their existing satellite equipment.
“Friday Night Baseball” will resume on Apple TV+ on Friday, April 7 with the Texas Rangers at the Chicago Cubs at 2pm ET, and the San Diego Padres at the Atlanta Braves at 7 pm ET. “Friday Night Baseball” games will air on DIRECTV FOR BUSINESS channels 9528 and 9529.
…“With the addition of ‘Friday Night Baseball’, DIRECTV continues to bring the best in sports content aggregation to our unrivaled nationwide network of more than 300,000 commercial venues,” said Rob Thun, DIRECTV Chief Content Officer. “We look forward to having yet another marquee sports series that our commercial customers can tap into seamlessly through their existing satellite equipment.”
This adds to previous DirecTV For Business streaming deals, including Apple TV+ MLS Season Pass broadcasts and Amazon Thursday Night Football broadcasts. So they’re expanding their status as a business carrier of broadcasts that are streaming-only for individual consumers.