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After months of speculation, the National Football League finally selected a new partner for its “Sunday Ticket” package. Google’s YouTube will serve as the NFL’s exclusive Sunday Ticket streaming partner over the next seven years, and the streamer will pay around $2 billion per season for the privilege. These Sunday Ticket subscriptions include all out-of-market Sunday afternoon NFL games; local games will continue to air on broadcast television and remain blacked out by the service.
Sunday Ticket games have aired on DirecTV since the concept was first introduced way back in 1994. The satellite provider last upped their deal–which ran around $1.5 billion per season–in 2014; it expires at the end of the 2022 season. The NFL was reportedly seeking more like $2.5 billion for the complete Sunday Ticket rights, but there’s still a possibility they’ll get there, as the league retains commercial rights on streams that play in bars, restaurants, and other public venues.
For their part, YouTube plans to offer Sunday Ticket access to current YouTube TV subscribers and as an a la carte package through YouTube’s Premium Channels platform. Launched in November, YouTube Premiums works (This works essentially like subscribing to a third-party streaming service via a hub like Amazon Channels or Roku. There had been some discussion about also including feeds from NFL Network and NFL RedZone along with the Sunday Ticket package, but these were not finalized, though the two networks remain available through a conventional YouTube TV subscription.
No pricing information has been announced yet, but on DirecTV, Sunday Ticket packages tend to run around $300-$400 per season. The games will likely be a major boost to the YouTube TV offering, which launched in 2017 and currently has about 5 million subscribers. It’s already the #1 pay TV service in the US.
Amazon and Apple also both bid on the Sunday Ticket package, and had been considered the most likely alternate streaming destinations for the deal. (Disney’s cable network ESPN was also an early contender.) An item from Puck News, published on December 16, however, indicated that returning CEO Bob Iger had decided not to move forward with the deal. According to reporter Dylan Byers, Iger felt that the NFL package was affordable for the company but he didn’t “see the logic” in making the sizable investment.
The scope of the deal may also have been a stumbling block for Apple executives. Back in October, CNBC reported that negotiations between Apple and the NFL had been complicated by broadcasting deals that were already in place. Apple was apparently not interested in simply partnering with the NFL on certain games, or even the Sunday Ticket package, but sought an exclusive partnership, similar to the company’s deal with Major League Soccer.
This left Google and Amazon as the final two bidders. Amazon Prime Video already carries the NFL’s Thursday Night Football games, and the company also owns a piece of the YES Network, which broadcasts Yankees games and streams some English Premier League soccer content as well. Adding more high-profile sports content seemed a natural next step.
We can only guess as to the specific reasons the company dropped out of the negotiations, handing Google the victory, but the stock market could hold the answer. Amazon shares have steadily declined since October, with the company projecting that Q4 sales will come in well under their previous estimates. In November, the company’s market cap dipped below $1 trillion for the first time since early 2020. Executives may have felt that the time was not right to make an even deeper investment in the NFL, on top of Prime Video’s other costly content.
Just this past week, Amazon Studios Head of Global TV Vernon Sanders promised that Season 2 of the epic fantasy series “The Rings of Power” will be even grander than the first, with more intense battle scenes. He also predicts the show – among the most expensive ever produced – will be renewed soon for a third season. With these sorts of major expenses on the horizon, and the management team very much in flux, the timing for a major new NFL investment may have simply been off.
With NFL rights now largely off the table, opportunities for streamers to grow their audience via exclusive sports content are dwindling. The NBA is shopping around a streaming-only package to supplement its latest domestic broadcast agreement, which could be valued at around $1 billion, but the next mega-deal for basketball games wont’ be locked in until 2025. That’s when the league’s current agreements with Disney’s ABC/ESPN and WB Discovery’s TNT expire; the next deal could be valued anywhere between $50-$75 billion.
Otherwise, major streamers without live sports packages are left divvying up smaller, more niche content. The Wall Street Journal reported in November that Netflix – which once dismissed the idea of streaming live sports altogether – has started exploring some alternative options, including a package of matches from the Women’s Tennis Association UK Tour. The streamer apparently also had considered acquiring the World Surf League (WSL), but the deal ultimately fell through. Or, you know, wiped out. Whichever you prefer.-Lon Harris
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