There aren’t too many giant properties available for bidding when it comes to the megadeals being struck between television networks and sports leagues. In fact, most of the major properties are lined up well into the next decade. But one property worth watching that could come onto the market is NFL Sunday Ticket, long an exclusive staple of DirecTV and a must-have for any diehard professional football fan.
For many months, speculation has been running rampant over Sunday Ticket’s future. The NFL has the ability to opt-out of their exclusive agreement with DirecTV after this season with a contract that is slated to run through the 2022 season. With the NFL expanding their ever-growing television universe thanks to Thursday Night Football and partnerships with streaming platforms like Twitter and Amazon. And already, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell has signaled that a similar multi-platform arrangement could be in Sunday Ticket’s future where it’s shared on a traditional television platform as well as a streaming one.
Of course, the bidding for Sunday Ticket is of massive interest and significance for NFL fans and there are sure to be plenty of suitors. Naturally, AT&T has raised their hand to signal their intent to hold onto the package through DirecTV while Disney would love to add another pillar of programming to the growing ESPN+ lineup.
With the NFL’s opt-out deadline approaching, we’re finally starting to see some of the first concrete details start to emerge on where the talks are heading. While it’s behind a paywall, Sports Business Journal reports from the NFL owners meetings that the NFL has only heard interest from streaming platforms like ESPN+, Amazon, and DAZN on a Sunday Ticket deal. However, the streaming platforms aren’t ready to pay the $1.5 billion asking price for the exclusive rights to Sunday Ticket as of yet and are looking at buying in as a non-exclusive rights partner at a much cheaper rate. Furthermore, DirecTV may be interested in going down a similar road, wary of the massive rights fees for the Sunday Ticket package as an exclusive.
A non-exclusive Sunday Ticket would represent a huge change in the industry and (likely) a huge win for football fans. For years if you wanted to watch out-of-market games for your favorite team, you would have to go through the painstaking process of having to switch to DirecTV. Even if DirecTV shared the rights with a streaming platform like Amazon or ESPN+, fans would be free to keep their cable or satellite system in place (or cut the cord) and still have access to all the NFL games they could ever want.
The NFL will obviously try to squeeze every dollar that they can out of these negotiations- that’s just the shield’s modus operandi. It’s why every platform known to humankind has a piece of Thursday Night Football and something like nine networks televise everything from the NFL Combine to the NFL Draft and the Pro Bowl. (That number may or may not actually be an exaggeration.) Wherever the best deal is, that’s where the league is going to go.
But even though nobody is (at least not yet) forking over a billion bucks for exclusive rights, perhaps it’s not the worst thing in the world for the NFL. In actuality, they could be backed into a corner that just might prove beneficial for them. Let’s be frank, the NFL has never been the most forward-thinking league in the world. They’ve been well behind the curve of the NBA in embracing the social nature of social media with a more narrow viewpoint of forcing fans to their page and their videos to watch their ads and make them money. However, it seems like the league is finally beginning to grasp that to reach new fans, they have to take their product to new places and platforms.
Streaming isn’t just the future of the industry, it’s the present as well. We’ve been wondering for the last ten years when places like Amazon and the like would become major players in sports rights, and it’s slowly but surely happening right before our eyes… just not in a way we would expect. Instead of gobbling up billion dollar rights deals, these companies seem content on gaining a small piece here and there to entice fans to subscribe to the service instead of signing one or two huge deals and hoping that’s enough for fans to subscribe.
Think about it like this – a sports fan may not be willing to pay for an ESPN+ subscription just to watch UFC. But if you start adding Copa America it may make them a little more interested. Add in NFL games and it may be enough to tip them over the edge. It benefits the streaming platform by giving fans more of a reason to subscribe, and it also opens the door for the NFL to new fans who may not be tuned in solely for pro football reasons.
The NFL and the media companies may not realize it right now, but a future where Sunday Ticket is on television and streaming may be the best result for everyone involved.