And then there were two.
After months of rumors, reporting, deliberations, and negotiations, it appears that Apple, which was long considered the frontrunner to land NFL Sunday Ticket, has backed out of negotiations and is no longer in the running. If true, that would leave Amazon and Google as the only remaining potential partners who have expressed interest in taking over the deal from DirecTV.
The news comes from Dylan Byers and Julia Alexander at Puck as part of a larger piece about Bob Iger’s return to Disney and the impact on ESPN and sports media rights (via ProFootballTalk).
“I’m now told that Apple, once seen as a frontrunner for the rights, has also backed out of those negotiations — not because they can’t afford it, but because they don’t see the logic. So it’s down to Amazon and Google, and there’s certainly a logic there for both companies: Amazon can use it to drive Prime subscriptions; Google can use it to fuel its YouTube TV business.”
The Athletic sports business reporter Daniel Kaplan confirmed that report as well.
Had source confirm for me Apple indeed has bowed out https://t.co/gtrfm1fy4D
— Daniel Kaplan (@KaplanSportsBiz) December 17, 2022
The article appears to confirm that Disney/ESPN is officially out on Sunday Ticket as well, which is backed up by Jimmy Pitaro’s recent statements.
Apple was initially said to be involved in talks around Sunday Ticket back in July 2021 and it quickly became a three-horse race between them, Amazon, and Google/YouTube. Near the end of 2021, Amazon seemed to emerge as the frontrunner and by the time early 2022 rolled around, it was a foregone conclusion that it would be Apple or Amazon.
What complicated things were reports that the NFL was trying to split the package into different assets, including an equity stake in NFL Media, the NFL Sunday Ticket package, and mobile device live-streaming. Apple’s reported interest in taking on all three of those assets seemed to make them the favorite once more. By April 2022, it appeared that Apple was now far and away the favorite to land the package.
“My sources say it’s Apple’s to lose, at this point. (One source told me this weekend that the deal is actually done and is being kept quiet at Apple’s request, which I haven’t confirmed and don’t know for a fact; Apple isn’t commenting.),” wrote Matthew Belloni of Puck in April 2022.
By June, we learned that Amazon, Apple, and Disney had submitted bids for Sunday Ticket and Google threw their hat in the ring soon after and NFL commissioner Roger Goodell promised an announcement by the fall.
As if Apple wasn’t already considered the favorite, that seemed all but assured in September when it was announced that Apple Music was taking over as the Super Bowl Halftime Show sponsor. At the very least, it implied to many that this was Apple’s way of ensuring they’re in the NFL business even if the Sunday Ticket deal drags out for a bit.
However, that sounds like it was simply wishful thinking and now the NFL is scrambling to keep the price for the package where they want it with one less bidder at the table.
Allegedly a major sticking point that started to surface in the last few weeks was that Apple wanted to include Sunday Ticket as part of Apple TV+ with no additional cost. DirecTV prices the Sunday Ticket at around $300 to $400 depending on what version you get. As Andrew Marchand recently explained, including Sunday Ticket at no extra cost to Apple TV+ subscribers was something that CBS and Fox were not comfortable with given the low pricepoint would siphon viewers away from watching on broadcast channels, many of which are affiliates that they own.
“I would say it’s in a very critical point for us,” Goodell said last week, perhaps portending the Apple news. “We’ve had a lot of interest in this, and we continue to. Our decisions are not based on timelines. They’re based on it being the best outcome with the best party.”