For a long time, streaming sports service DAZN has been rumored to be chasing U.S. NFL rights, particularly NFL Sunday Ticket if that package hits the market this year. The NFL is still debating if they’ll opt out early from their exclusive deal with AT&T/DirecTV, so there’s no guarantee Sunday Ticket will actually be available, but DAZN was floated as a potential bidder for at least part of that package as early as last October, and DAZN executive chairman John Skipper’s April comments sure made it look like they were going after packages like Sunday Ticket.
Now, DAZN CEO Simon Denyer has told Bloomberg’s David Hellier and Christopher Palmeri on the record that DAZN wants U.S. NFL rights:
“We’re definitely interested in looking at the NFL rights,” DAZN Chief Executive Officer Simon Denyer said in an interview. “Our strategy is to be a major player in sports rights via OTT, and the U.S. and Canada have the highest penetration of OTT in the world.”
On one level, there’s nothing revelatory there. As mentioned above, Skipper said in April DAZN’s MLB deal was “pretty clearly intended to send a signal that we are interested in the major sports in this country,” and the NFL is still at the tops of “major” from a TV audience perspective. And DAZN already has NFL Sunday Ticket rights in Canada (although they now sublicense those to some cable providers following massive backlash to their attempts to offer it streaming-only), and they also have NFL rights in Austria, Germany, Japan, Switzerland, and Italy. And given that they’re pursuing all sorts of U.S. sports rights, it would be strange if they weren’t “interested” in NFL rights. But still, it’s notable to have Denyer actually express specific NFL interest on the record.
The more interesting question may be if DAZN actually has much of a chance of landing U.S. rights to Sunday Ticket, though. The current package sees AT&T/DirecTV paying an average of $1.5 billion per year through 2022, and while DAZN could potentially get there (they’re owned by billionaire Len Blavatnik, who has an estimated net worth of around $25 billion as per Bloomberg), that would be a much bigger bet than any rights deal they’ve made so far. Bloomberg also has DAZN with an estimated loss of $627 million last year, so adding a further outlay like Sunday Ticket would make that balance sheet look even worse.
While their recent sale of the Perform stats division brought them some cash to use for further rights acquisitions, an exclusive bid for Sunday Ticket would cost them an awful lot, especially considering that there are reportedly plenty of other potential suitors; AT&T/DirecTV wants to keep the package, ESPN parent Disney has expressed interest in it, and other tech firms like Amazon have been rumored to be sniffing around.
If Sunday Ticket does become available, a more reasonable solution including DAZN may be a non-exclusive deal, which there have been some rumblings on. Under that sort of plan, AT&T/DirecTV could keep cable/satellite exclusivity for the package while DAZN (or someone else) could grab the ability to offer it as a streaming over-the-top package, with lower costs to both sides. That would also increase the reach of Sunday Ticket, making it available to those who can’t get or don’t want DirecTV, and it would avoid the backlash and technical issues that showed up in Canada with DAZN’s attempt to take that package streaming-only. And it might make some sense for the NFL, helping to boost their presence in the cord-cutting world and giving them a couple of different sources of income for the Sunday Ticket package. But a non-exclusive package carries less value (especially considering that DirecTV has long used Sunday Ticket exclusivity as a way to drive subscriber sign-ups), so there are questions about if both halves of that package would add up to enough money for the NFL to consider that option.
It’s of course also notable that Denyer didn’t specifically spell out “Sunday Ticket,” but just mentioned “NFL rights.” Sunday Ticket would seem to be the most logical thing to consider there, as the networks’ existing NFL packages are locked up through the 2022 season, but there are maybe some other options. For example, Amazon’s deal for digital rights to Thursday Night Football expires after the 2019 season, so DAZN could possibly get into the mix there if that digital package comes up for bidding.
The NFL has also carved out some other digital packages in the past, including exclusive games for Yahoo (which now, with parent Verizon, has a wider NFL streaming deal), so there might be something else DAZN could make work. And it’s notable that their MLB deal saw them just get non-exclusive whiparound rights. That specific solution might be harder to do with the NFL given the existence of things like the RedZone channels (one of which is part of Sunday Ticket, one of which is not), but that deal suggests that DAZN is open to non-exclusive deals as a way to get a foothold in the U.S. market.
In fact, they seem pretty open to anything at this point; they’re offering some shoulder programming for free, and Denyer’s comments to Bloomberg aren’t exactly specific about their endgame.
DAZN recently launched in Brazil, its ninth market. The company has said it wants to be in 20 countries by 2020. When asked to confirm the target, Denyer said only that DAZN would launch in new territories “later this year and next year.”
He said he wants to bulk up in the U.S. streaming market so DAZN is as well known there as it is in Germany and Japan.
A more prominent position in the country could make DAZN a more appealing acquisition target for a U.S. rival and make it easier for it to raise funds in the country’s financial markets. However, Denyer played down any U.S. listing plans.
“It’s easier if you’re a well-known brand,” said Denyer. “But we’re not raising brand awareness for the purpose of some sort of IPO,” he said. “There’s no way the company is actively considering an IPO, although we wouldn’t rule it out.”
So, at this point, DAZN is clearly looking to boost their U.S. presence, and that could help them regardless of if their future is remaining private, being acquired or going public. And some involvement with the NFL might be a key part of boosting that presence, given that league’s profile and reach. But while the NFL seems very important for DAZN (and that’s what makes Denyer spelling them out specifically interesting), the reverse isn’t necessarily true; there are a ton of companies who want NFL rights, and the NFL will be just fine if they wind up with one of (or a combination of) the other suitors for Sunday Ticket and other properties. It’s going to be quite interesting to see just how much of a play DAZN makes for the NFL, and if that winds up being enough to get the league to partner with them.