Apple streams MLB games on Apple TV Plus for the first time

Max Scherzer #21 of the New York Mets sets a third inning floor against the Miami Marlins in their spring training game at Roger Dean Stadium on March 21, 2022 in Jupiter, Florida.

Mark Brown | Getty Images

Starting Friday, Apple TV+ will be broadcasting a double header of MLB games each week.

For the most part, it’ll be similar to watching a ball game on a traditional broadcast network, but with a few extra features, like the option to ask Siri for player stats or listen to your favorite player’s at-bat song on Apple Music.

It’s also free at the moment. There’s no need to subscribe to Apple TV+, which costs $4.99 a month to watch. But it may eventually help Apple sell more iPhones.

Apple’s first big foray into sports streaming signals its larger strategy with Apple TV+, which all accounts – including Apple – have far fewer subscribers than gamers like Netflix, Disney + and HBO Max. While these services contain more shows and movies than you’ve ever hoped to watch in your life, the Apple TV+ library is smaller and more carefully curated by people rather than an algorithm.

And while no one at Apple would complain if TV+ racked up Netflix-wide subscribers, that’s not the ultimate goal. On Thursday, I spoke with Apple representatives who told me that the company’s focus is not to dominate market share through services like Apple TV+. Instead, he wants to focus on quality. Of course, you could easily say that a lot more people would sign up for Apple TV+ if it did that well.

It made me think of something I wrote two years ago when Apple TV+ was in its infancy. They are not designed to be compatible with Netflix. It’s more like an HBO classic – a prestigious combo of Emmy and Oscar taste, without a lot of filler in between.

The experiment works on this front. Last month, Apple won a Best Picture Oscar for “CODA” and several Emmys for “Ted Lasso,” including Outstanding Comedy Series. Meanwhile, the dystopian workplace drama “Severance” turned into a sleepy movie this year, with critics cheering and Apple ordering a second season.

Netflix may have big hits like “Stranger Things” and “Squid Game,” but for each of those shows, there are dozens of programming options with lower eyebrows like “The Floor is Lava.” There is a lot of quality within Netflix, but a lot of that can get lost in the noise.

Think of Apple TV+ the same way you think of all the extras included with your Amazon Prime subscription. Apple doesn’t need to make a huge profit from streaming TV. It just needs it as another weapon in its arsenal to make you buy iPhones and other Apple gadgets. The new addition of live baseball games is a good test for Apple to see if it can attract enough attention to constantly expand its sports offerings on Apple TV+, as others like Netflix continue to avoid live sports programming.

It also explains why Apple is reportedly launching a subscription service for iPhones, which will give you the option to bundle Apple offerings like TV+ with a new iPhone each year at a fixed annual or monthly rate. That would be a double whammy for Apple. It will make more customers upgrade their phones every year, rather than every three or four years, and add more subscribers to its services like TV+, Apple Music and Apple News.

Deutsche Bank analysts saw this same opportunity, saying in a research note on Friday that the potential package of devices and services would “significantly” increase the number of subscribers to Apple’s digital services. This, in turn, will be a major catalyst for the stock.

It all comes back to the same story we’ve seen unfold at Apple since it started pushing it into online services several years ago. The iPhone remains the main generator of profit, while everything else, from AirPods to Apple TV+, is designed to keep customers locked down and upgrade their devices.

Sports broadcasting is just another piece to this lock.