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Saying yes to Apple, and no to YES

The $2.5 billion broadcast agreement between Apple and MLS is good news for NYCFC fans, but saying goodby to announcers Ian Joy and Joe Tolleson will hurt

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Two great tastes that taste great together.
Courtesy Apple.com

The new ten-year, $2.5 billion streaming deal between Apple and MLS should come as welcome news for New York City FC fans. It will mark the end of the broadcast partnership with the YES Network, and bring all live coverage of matches under the Apple umbrella via a new MLS subscription service that carries every league match and is free from any local blackout restrictions.

Saying goodbye to YES is only hard because it appears to also mean saying goodbye to the two announcers who have been calling NYCFC matches since the inaugural season. Losing Ian Joy and Joe Tolleson hurts, as they’re a part of the club’s young history—a rare constant for fans since day one. Joy and Tolleson have done a consistently excellent job of calling NYCFC matches.

But there are a number of other reasons to think that moving on from the YES Network will end up being a good thing. The new Apple arrangement is poised to provide a new level of convenience for fans who want to regularly watch matches. “Convenient” hasn’t usually been the best way to describe attempting to watch NYCFC play on YES.

The cable subscription service was supposed to be the most straightforward way to guarantee access to NYCFC match coverage, but with YES, even that became complicated. Many matches end up airing “exclusively” on the YES App as a result of scheduling conflicts with the Yankees or Nets or whoever. Planned match replays have also been interrupted by postgame coverage of other teams running long, wreaking havoc on any viewer’s attempt to record a broadcast they missed.

Back in 2015, YES seemed like a logical fit for NYCFC broadcasts: The regional sports network is also home to the Yankees, which in turn own 20% of the club. But seven years later, regional sports networks like YES are a dying breed and cable subscribers are a rapidly-shrinking population. Other major sports are making similar MLS-like moves towards streaming, with MLB making its own unique, exclusive deals with Apple and Peacock for specific sets of games throughout the season. The shift from cable-centric to streaming-only is a monumental one for MLS, but it seems made with an eye to the future, and followers of NYCFC stand to benefit.

Cord-cutters have been almost completely shut out from live NYCFC coverage. None of YouTubeTV, fuboTV, or Hulu+Live TV have carried the YES Network since late 2020. The new Apple-MLS deal will lift all local blackout restrictions, and will finally give those in the tri-state area without cable a simple path to streaming matches without the added complication of a VPN.

While asking those with cable to now sign up for a new subscription to watch NYCFC post-YES Network might seem like a significant inconvenience, I don’t think it will prove to be a dealbreaker for fans. There are very real and legitimate concerns about what this new deal means for growing the MLS audience and expanding the reach of the league and the game, but I think having all matches in one place, with promises of even more coverage of the league and its teams, will be an easy sell for dedicated followers of NYCFC and the other MLS clubs.

It’s important to note that there are still many unknowns regarding how the Apple-MLS matches will work. There’s still no clarity on how much the MLS subscription component will cost, though it was announced all MLS season ticket holders get subscriptions included with their tickets for at least the first year—it’s unclear what will happen after the 2023 season ends. It’s unclear which announcers will be hired to call matches, so maybe the door isn’t fully closed on Joe and Ian. Reortedly, there are still negotiations taking place to strike a separate deal to simulcast select matches on national networks such as ESPN or Univision.

But even with all that uncertainty, for NYCFC fans, there’s a lot to like at this early stage.

YES has not exactly prioritized their NYCFC coverage over the years. They’ve never done any serious pre- or post-match shows, and to my memory there has never been any other original NYCFC-centric show to be found on the network’s schedule, aside from the match broadcasts. There now appear plans for the coverage to be much more comprehensive before, during, and after all MLS matches once things move to Apple.

With the move to Apple also comes plans to standardize kickoff days and times to strict Wednesday and Saturday night windows. This is a big-picture positive for the league, as it provides a level of consistency that had been lacking when it came to when matches actually occurred. But it may be a huge impediment for NYCFC, who are at the mercy of trying to schedule home matches around the schedules of two different baseball teams. Unclear what additional chaos that may cause for a club already used to unique scheduling quirks.

Ultimately, leaving the YES Network behind will be bittersweet, but it’s a necessary shift that will make NYCFC matches easier to access, even if that at first seems counterintuitive. Signing up for one thing and knowing it’s where NYCFC matches will be for ten years is a welcome change from trying to figure out if a match is live on YES, only on the YES App, only on tape delay in a few hours on YES, or is perhaps on one of MLS’s two national TV partners.