NFL Sunday Ticket NFL Sunday Ticket.

Over the last few years, conversations have heated up about where the NFL Sunday Ticket rights might go beginning in the fall of 2023 (they’re with DirecTV through the 2022 NFL season). And while those conversations have included a wide range of interested parties, from ESPN parent Disney to DAZN, the two recurring names have been Apple and Amazon.

Both of those tech giants’ streaming services (AppleTV+ and Amazon Prime Video, respectively) have been tabbed as “frontrunners” at various points, and that makes sense. Those companies both have incredible amounts of money, they’re both now trying to make a splash in live sports (Amazon will take over Thursday Night Football exclusivity this fall after years as its streaming destination, while Apple has its new MLB deal), and they both have infrastructure and subscriber bases that would be appealing for the NFL.

But it’s been unclear just when the NFL would pick one of those two suitors. And there are several complicating factors that could be involved in that, from if a stake in (or the entirety of) NFL Media operations might accompany this deal to if there might be single-team or single-game options offered to what this might mean for bars and restaurants. It’s also notable that with wide-ranging companies like both Amazon and Apple, there could be other elements to a deal beyond broadcasting. For example, it’s been mentioned that Apple in particular might be interested in replacing Microsoft as the NFL’s sideline tablet provider/sponsor, and Amazon has their own tablet lines, so they can’t be ruled out of that either.

Thus, with these new rights not actually kicking in for another 15 months or so, and with all the possible complications to sort through, it maybe isn’t the most surprising thing in the world that we haven’t had a full deal announcement yet. However, Matthew Belloni of Puck provides an interesting alternate explanation for that. In a mailbag column, Belloni answered a reader’s question about Sunday Ticket by not only saying his sources see Apple as the frontrunner, but that one says a deal is done and just not announced yet.

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.) That would make sense: Even after winning top Emmys and the best picture Oscar, C.E.O. Tim Cook has said Apple is merely in its early days of premium video, and nothing is more premium than NFL football. Plus, it would explain Apple’s recent foray into live events and advertising with MLB games. (Note to Apple: Your baseball broadcasters are bush league; no way will the NFL tolerate a C-level crew.)

Whoever gets the Sunday Ticket deal after this coming season will pay way more than the $1.5 billion a year that DirecTV shells out. Most believe the cost will be in the $2.5 billion range, which eliminates all but the deepest-pocketed buyers, and probably strikes the struggling DirecTV, too. Disney and Amazon already have exclusive NFL packages, so that leaves Apple, and the NFL likes spreading its rights around so everyone is invested in its success.

It’s worth noting the degrees of caution Belloni passes that along with; it’s something he hasn’t confirmed. But it’s interesting that someone is saying that the deal is done, even as an anonymous source. And, yes, Apple has their own timing for announcing things; they were in “significant talks” on the MLB package in January, and likely made the deal not long after that, but didn’t announce it officially until a March 8 investor event. (And that particular announcement came while the MLB lockout was still ongoing, so it probably wasn’t MLB’s preferred timing either.) So it is quite conceivable that this deal has been signed and just not announced.

There are a couple of other notable points in there. One is “most believe the cost will be in the $2.5 billion range.” That is a significant hike over the $1.5 billion DirecTV was paying annually, but it’s in line with the reports we’ve seen, including CNBC’s Alex Sherman saying the NFL might ask for that much last September. And it’s not as ridiculous as the figure of $7.5 billion that got spread around in February thanks to Mike Florio at Pro Football Talk, who wrote “Recent reports have suggested that the winning bidder could pay as much as $7.5 billion per year, three times the current DirecTV rate”; Florio said on Twitter “someone on CNBC” threw out that number, but we’ve been unable to verify that, and all references to $7.5 billion seem to link back to Florio. But there hadn’t been a lot of specific numbers reporting lately, so it is valuable to see a plugged-in journalist like Belloni saying the price is still expected to be around $2.5 billion, not that $7.5 billion figure.

Another worthwhile point in this piece is that last quoted line, “the NFL likes spreading its rights around so everyone is invested in its success.” That’s absolutely true, and that’s something we’ve seen with the league’s whole packages of TV and streaming deals recently. And that’s maybe the strongest argument for them to go with Apple rather than Disney or Amazon, at least if the overall numbers from all three are comparable; the NFL isn’t going to dramatically undervalue its rights just to bring in another company, but if Apple is willing to pay big to boost their live sports presence (which apparently they are now, after years of talk that they might some day do that), it makes some sense for the NFL to get into business with them rather than just expand their business with Disney or Amazon.

There’s still a lot to be determined here. This isn’t officially confirmed as being a done deal with Apple yet. And even if and when that deal is done, there will be lots of important details to examine, from distribution (Apple will presumably put it in AppleTV+, and likely as an extra-cost addition, but at how much extra of a cost?) to options (will this be just the traditional all-in package, or will there be separate carveouts for single-team, single-game, or maybe just RedZone?) to if this will include any/all of NFL Media to if there will be something extra like that sideline device deal. But it is interesting to see the momentum seemingly building for this package going to Apple, to the point where someone’s saying the deal’s already done. We’ll see if that proves to be correct.


About Andrew Bucholtz

Andrew Bucholtz has been covering sports media for Awful Announcing since 2012. He is also a staff writer for The Comeback. His previous work includes time at Yahoo! Sports Canada and Black Press.