Apple’s entry into live sports was, in many ways, a lot like its foray into other tech fields. It waited on first movers to set some broad standards, then came in with its own enhancements and distinct stamp on things. Unfortunately, the debut of Major League Baseball on Apple TV+ was more Newton than iPhone.
While the company certainly got some things right, judging by viewer feedback, it swung and missed on arguably the most important part of broadcast TV: The team of announcers.
The reception to Apple TV+ broadcasters Melanie Newman, Chris Young, Hannah Keyser, and field reporter Brooke Fletcher was severe—and sometimes punitive. It was the first time said team had worked together, and that was glaringly obvious.
Rather than settling into a comfortable, soothing rhythm like the best announcer teams, Apple’s squad just wouldn’t shut up, often taking the conversation far, far, far away from what was happening on the screen. And it got so bad that even former athletes couldn’t lend their support.
“It was, dare I say, unlistenable,” said former NFL quarterback and commentator Boomer Esiason on WFAN radio. “I don’t know how else to say it. But, then again, it’s new, and it’s gonna be improved, and sometimes when things happen, and they first start, you’re like, Oh, my God, they’ve got to fix this. . . . If it can’t get any worse, then hopefully there is going to be room for improvement.”
"It was, dare I say, unlistenable. I don't know how else to say it?" – Boomer Esiason on Apple TV+'s MLB debut pic.twitter.com/1lbaoLfRCZ
— Awful Announcing (@awfulannouncing) April 11, 2022
Keith Olbermann was less kind, calling the team’s references to Apple products during the broadcast a “shitfest infomercial component.”
The shitfest infomercial component to @AppleTV's first (and if they're smart, last) foray into @mlb coverage has produced an amazing suck-up followed by one of the most succinct burns I've ever read: pic.twitter.com/1Mg2HlulJs
— Keith Olbermann (@KeithOlbermann) April 9, 2022
And nonfamous baseball fans were even more harsh.
Dear @MLB, I would rather listen to Joe Buck do play by play of my parents conceiving me for 3 hours . Than listen to the mindless driveling that is the commentators for the Mets – Nationals #FridayNightBaseball on #AppleTV. Do us a favor end the #AppleTV deal it’s terrible!! pic.twitter.com/lpbeFHQAyn
— BigDannyCool (@BigDannyCool31) April 9, 2022
— MetsfaninIowa (@MetsfaninIowa) April 9, 2022
The strikeout by the announce team wasn’t the only misstep. Some viewers who watched the Washington Nationals and New York Mets complained of outages and an inability to log in.
There were some solid line drives, though. The Apple minimalistic-graphics style earned some applause. And fans were very happy to not have to deal with on-screen ads or network promotions that detracted from the game.
There was a mixed reaction to the betting and probability odds on the bottom right corner; but, overall, the picture quality was praised (though it wasn’t 4K, as many assumed it was).
Apple’s not the first tech company to miss the ball on their first attempt. Amazon’s first NFL broadcast in 2017 wasn’t exactly heralded as a triumph, with users complaining about video quality and buffering issues, as well as being booted from the Prime Video app. The network not only overcame those issues, but it became such a force in the NFL that it will exclusively host Thursday Night Football starting later this year.
And Twitter’s debut live-sports broadcast—of a Wimbledon match in 2016—earned some grumbling as viewers couldn’t find the link to watch. Fans who watched the social network’s airing of NFL games later that year wondered why it failed to offer any unique features to the broadcast.
(In fairness, though, neither Amazon nor Twitter suffered a backlash in the ensuing days quite like Apple has.)
It takes time for any group of broadcasters to get used to each other. It also takes time to learn to balance the slow-paced parts of an MLB game alongside the unmatched excitement that certain moments can carry.
Baseball fans can only hope that this neophyte team learns those lessons quickly. Otherwise, Apple TV+’s remaining 22 games over the next 11 weeks could be rocky.
Fans who think Apple’s MLB deal will be short-lived are bound to be disappointed, though. The company signed a seven-year deal with the league, shelling out $85 million per year for the rights to Friday night games.
Love it or hate it, if you want to watch certain MLB games on a Friday for the foreseeable future, Apple TV+ will be your only option, short of an in-person visit to the ballpark.