One of the more notable pieces of the NFL media landscape not outlined in Thursday’s league and network releases on new rights deals was NFL Sunday Ticket. That service is with AT&T/DirecTV through the 2022-23 season, but its future has been the subject of speculation for years, with a lot of recent discussion revolving around it heading to ESPN+, Amazon, or Apple. Once and current WFAN host Craig Carton even tried to claim a Sunday Ticket/ESPN+ deal was done Thursday, tweeting “Directv is out of the NFL and ESPN+ gets it” (sic) and then discussing that on the air, which led to a Radio.com writeup of his comments (and one that even managed to get the year of that contract’s expiration wrong). But, in a conference call with media about the ESPN/ABC side of these deals Thursday afternoon, ESPN president Jimmy Pitaro (seen above in 2018) said they’ve only had “exploratory conversations” on Sunday Ticket, and that they’d be interested in talking to the NFL more when the league is ready to do so:
ESPN's Jimmy Pitaro on Sunday Ticket: “We’ve had exploratory conversations with the league. Sunday Ticket is an incredibly valuable product. When the league is ready, we are interested in having that conversation with them.”
— Ben Strauss (@benjstrauss) March 18, 2021
There’s a wide gulf between Carton’s line of “Directtv is out of the NFL and ESPN+ gets it” to those comments from Pitaro suggesting that they haven’t even had in-depth discussions with the league on this yet. Of course, it’s possible the discussions are more advanced than Pitaro presented. And of course, it is possible that this package will eventually land at ESPN+, even if that’s just as an option to buy it through that service for an extra fee. But it sure doesn’t seem to be already there.
At the moment, there appears to be plenty of remaining uncertainty around Sunday Ticket. There have been discussions around a non-exclusive version of it, where it could be sold to one company for streaming and another for traditional TV. And there have been plenty of discussions of who might chase it, from ESPN to Amazon to Apple to Comcast/NBC/Peacock to DAZN. And while some of those suitors (the first three in particular) seem perhaps more likely to land it than the others, its fate doesn’t appear decided yet. Sunday Ticket discussion is definitely worth watching, though, and the one thing that is certain is that these rights are going to lead to even more money for the NFL.