The Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees are playing one other in a four-game series, but the stakes are different this time around.
This time, the main focus will be on whether Yankees slugger Aaron Judge sets an American League record for home runs rather than win-loss records or the playoff race. The series opening tonight will only be broadcast on Apple TV+, not on the YES Network or anyplace else on the linear TV dial, much to the dismay of media observers and many Yankee fans.
In a multi-year agreement announced in March, Apple and Major League Baseball agreed to stream every Friday Night Baseball game for an estimated $85 million per season.
Unlike Prime Video, Peacock, ESPN+, and other sports streaming services, Apple isn’t charging users to watch the games like it does for Ted Lasso and its other original content. The free pass, though, hasn’t stopped Yankee supporters from venting on social media and on local sports-talk radio about not being able to watch history on conventional TV.
Judge joins two illustrious Yankees in the clubhouse with 60 career home runs. He is one game behind American League record holder Roger Maris, who set his mark in 1961 after the league’s expansion to 162, and is tied with Babe Ruth’s 1927 total.
In recent weeks, interest in Judge’s home run quest has spread beyond the New York market, evoking memories of the craze that surrounded Mark Maguire and Sammy Sosa’s epic home run duel in 1998. Naturally, that National League game ended with a big exclamation point as both players later admitted to using performance-enhancing substances.
Ratings on YES have increased throughout this thrilling season for Judge and the division-leading Yankees, despite the pressure on regional sports networks. The team, Sinclair Broadcast Group, Amazon, and private equity investors, who now jointly control the formerly Fox-run network, held discussions with Apple about a potential swap that would permit it to carry tonight’s game.
In one scenario, in the event of Home Run No. 61 or 62, they even sent lead play-by-play announcer Michael Kay into the Apple booth to make his famous “See ya!” call. Apple was adamant about maintaining its position in live sports and saw an opportunity to draw in new viewers by utilizing Judge as a draw.
Although ESPN will have exclusive rights to Sunday’s series finale, YES does have the rights to Saturday’s game, which could see the record broken. The Apple deal prevents such a move tonight, barring any last-minute arrangements, but other networks will be permitted to do live look-ins to show Judge’s at-bats as they happen if the pursuit continues into the weekend.
The hiccup brings to mind earlier achievements in sports journalism, but they were all limited to the cable box. The NFL changed the late-season matchup between the New York Giants and New England Patriots from being broadcast exclusively on the then-exclusive NFL Network to a national simulcast on NBC and CBS in 2007. NFL games were first broadcast on ESPN in the 1980s, but at a much lower volume than they are now. The league made note of this prior to Amazon’s exclusive Thursday Night Football streams. The much-anticipated final home game for Duke men’s basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski had to start airing on ESPN2 in March because another game ran long on ESPN, proving that sometimes even the best-laid plans can go haywire.
Stephen Nelson, Hunter Pence, and Katie Nolan will serve as Apple’s announcers for the Yankees-Red Sox game. This season, they have received criticism from viewers and some media figures, along with the other Apple booth trio of Melanie Newman, Hannah Keyser, and Chris Young. Apple’s decision to pursue them indicated objectives that were distinct from those of Amazon’s bid for the NFL, which was concentrated on attempting to imitate the conventional broadcast TV format with A-list talent both in front of and behind the camera.
Despite not being broadcast on linear TV in the Bronx, the Yankees-Red Sox game will be streamable not only in the United States but also in the UK, Canada, Australia, Brazil, Japan, Mexico, Puerto Rico, and South Korea, which is essential to the company’s global goal.
Along with unconventional commentary and what Apple refers to as “cinematic” high-definition cameras, Friday night games have also given Apple watchers a more consistent diet of statistics than regular TV broadcasts. During a podcast with Sports Illustrated’s Jimmy Traina in the spring, Nolan, who had previously worked at ESPN and NBC where she developed a reputation for her comedic persona, admitted that she had “freaked out” during an April broadcast and gone silent because she was worried about “getting fired after one shift” at her new job. She continued, “I’m essentially learning how to be in a booth while being in a booth.