(Bloomberg) -- Apple Inc., which aired its first baseball game only a few months ago, could be a part of MLB history Friday -- and that’s creating headaches for Yankees fans.
Slugger Aaron Judge is one home run away from tying Roger Maris’s American League record of 61 home runs in a season, set in 1961. Judge could tie or break the mark during Apple’s online broadcast of the Yankees game against the Boston Red Sox.
While most Yankees games are carried locally on the YES Network or broadcast by national TV networks, this game will be on Apple TV+. It’s free for anyone who downloads the app. But some viewers may not have Web-enabled TVs or watch TV on computers and phones.
In a tweet Friday, New York Attorney General Letitia James called on Major League Baseball and Apple to “open up tonight’s game” to the YES Network.
“Millions of New Yorkers paid their cable bills expecting to see live sports programming,” she said.
Potentially, it’s a big moment for Apple, which is trying to become a major player in sports broadcasting. This season, the company began streaming two Friday night baseball games on its Apple TV+ service. In June, it bought the rights to stream Major League Soccer. And it’s in the running to acquire rights to the NFL Sunday Ticket, an out-of-market package now held by DirecTV. Friday’s game will likely give Apple its biggest baseball audience yet.
Some fans have complained about finding games in the fragmented media landscape. This season, Yankees followers in New York who wanted to watch every game needed to have multiple streaming services -- Peacock, Apple TV+ and Amazon Prime Video -- as well as YES and other cable channels. If you live outside the New York area, you also need MLB.TV.
Friday’s game also presents an awkward scenario for the MLB, which wants its historic moments to be seen by the largest audience possible.
Apple doesn’t disclose how many people use its TV service, but it’s believed to be far less than the roughly 70 million US cable and satellite TV customers. Unlike cable, however, Apple’s baseball games are free and available in 12 countries, creating a global audience that could see Judge break a baseball record. The team tweeted instructions on how to access the broadcast.
In a video posted Thursday on his Twitter account, comedian Jon Stewart, who has a show on Apple TV+, promoted Apple’s Yankees broadcast on Friday night.
“See Aaron Judge chase history!” Stewart said. “All you need is the app!”
As Judge has inched closer to 61 home runs, sports broadcasters have jockeyed for a piece of the action. This week Walt Disney Co.’s ESPN cut into its regular programming to show his at-bats. ESPN won’t have the rights to do that during Friday’s game on Apple TV+, according to Front Office Sports.
TBS, owned by Warner Bros. Discovery Inc., said Thursday it will air the Sept. 27 Yankees game, when Judge may still be vying for the home-run record as well as the American League Triple Crown, a rare feat that occurs when a player leads the league in home runs, batting average and runs batted in. The network picks which late-season games to show about a week ahead of time in order to get the most compelling matchups.
Thanks in part to Judge’s prolific season, the YES Network is on pace to have its best year for viewership in 11 years, with an audience that’s up 24% from last year, according to a spokesperson for the network.
(Updates with New York Attorney General’s comments in fourth and fifth paragraphs. An earlier version corrected the number of countries where Apple’s baseball games are available.)
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