There’s a lot of uncertainty about what’s next for the NFL Sunday Ticket package, with the NFL considering opting out from their agreement with DirecTV after the 2019 season. DirecTV has even modified their contract language to reflect that they may not be able to offer the package after 2019, even if the odds still seem to be in favor of them retaining the ability to offer it. But a Bloomberg report from Scott Moritz and Scott Soshnick suggests that DirecTV’s exclusivity may soon come to an end, with the league perhaps letting them keep their package but then also selling Sunday Ticket online elsewhere:
The National Football League’s Sunday Ticket package of out-of-town games may have finally outgrown its quarter-century exclusive with AT&T Inc.’s DirecTV, at least that’s what Commissioner Roger Goodell says as he looks to expand into the digital frontier.
Though the league still has a good relationship with DirecTV, it’s considering splitting up the rights to make games more widely available now that people don’t only watch at home, Goodell said Friday in an interview.
“We’re having great discussions with DirecTV and AT&T,” Goodell said. “We’ve had a 25-year partnership and we want to continue that partnership, but we also are looking to see how we can change the delivery.”
…“We’re looking to make sure that we continue to deliver this package, which is a premium package of great content,” Goodell said. “We want it delivered on several different platforms.”
There’s a significant potential gain for the NFL from this, as the gain from whoever pays to sell the streaming package could be higher than the loss from changing DirecTV’s exclusive package to a non-exclusive one. And there should be no shortage of suitors for an online option; it could even stay within the AT&T family if they shift it to DirecTV Now (and AT&T is really trying to promote that package), or outside services like DAZN or Amazon could get involved. (It’s notable that DAZN already has the Sunday Ticket package in Canada, and that their situation there shows the splitting possibilities; they initially had the package exclusively, but eventually agreed to sublicense it to some cable and satellite providers after complaints.) It’s also possible that if the NFL fully opts out, a company like DAZN could buy the entire rights, maybe sublicensing some to DirecTV or another traditional provider (and maybe even just for bars).
The most likely scenario appears to be the conventional package sticking with DirecTV while a separate package is offered online, though, and that might actually not be all that bad for DirecTV. They should be able to pay a little less if it’s a non-exclusive deal, and they’ll still be able to use this as a major selling point to attract subscribers, especially if they remain the only traditional cable/satellite provider with this package. Streaming options are growing all the time (and DirecTV is even offering some in place of its traditional package), but they still carry some issues with lag and crashes, and it feels like there will be plenty of people who want to have Sunday Ticket through a traditional delivery system.
We’ll see what comes of all this. It’s of course possible that despite these comments, the NFL won’t actually change anything; there’s no real confirmation that they’re opting out yet, and even if they do, DirecTV might be able to make them a compelling offer to retain full exclusivity. But these comments do seem to make it look like a shift to some form of online offering is in the works, and that would seem to be a logical thing for the NFL to pursue. We’ll see how that works out.