The NFL Sunday Ticket out-of-market package has been a DirecTV mainstay since 1994. Yes, it's been around for almost 20 years. DirecTV has used Sunday Ticket to lure subscribers from cable of which I am one. I've been with DirecTV since 2001 and the major reason was NFL Sunday Ticket. Over the years, the satellite provider has been willing to pay the price to keep the Sunday afternoon games away from cable. And to keep fans in the mix, DirecTV developed the Red Zone Channel with host Andrew Siciliano, showing games when drives reached scoring potential, a feature that was so successful, NFL Network started its own version for cable with host Scott Hanson.
And while DirecTV has made mobile apps and even allowed the package to be put on gaming consoles as long as non-subscribers were willing to pay a huge fee, the satellite provider appears to be souring on the package because of rising costs. In a speech to an investor conference in Florida today, DirecTV Chief Financial Officer Pat Doyle made news by saying the company would consider sharing Sunday Ticket with cable or even dropping the package altogether if the NFL's price became too high.
Now, if Sunday Ticket were opened to cable, imagine the number of champagne corks that would be popped by Comcast, Cox, Time Warner and other major companies. They have been angry about not being able to bid for Sunday Ticket and even kept NFL Network off their systems for many years in response.
But in the past few years, DirecTV has gone from being the alternative to cable by carrying as many sports networks as possible to a company of fiscal restraint. In the early part of the 21st Century, DirecTV was the among first to pick up the Big Ten Network, MLB Network, NFL Network, the mtn. (since deceased), CSTV (now CBS Sports Network) and others. Since 2011, DirecTV has been reluctant to take on national and regional sports networks over their high subscriber fees. In 2009, DirecTV fought with Comcast over Versus (now NBC Sports Network) and pulled it for six months while NHL fans stewed. Pac-12 Network, Comcast SportsNet Houston, and Comcast SportsNet Northwest are currently not on the satellite provider over their subscriber fees and DirecTV originally said "no" to Time Warner Cable SportsNet until the first week of this NBA season over its cost.
It's hard to imagine DirecTV without NFL Sunday Ticket, but as the fees for sports continue to go up, providers are pushing back. DirecTV publicly saying it's considering axing Sunday Ticket over increased cost could be a bold negotiating tactic to get the best deal possible in the next contract.
If Sunday Ticket leaves DirecTV after 2014, it would be a major blow to the NFL (and DirecTV subscribers) and a huge shock, but the NFL at least knows that cable would be there to pick up the slack if it became available. This is a story that will be watched over the next year and could change the televised sports landscape.
[H/T Hollywood Reporter]