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NFL Exec Details League’s Media Future; Could Sunday Ticket, RedZone Be Part of Consolidated Hub on Apple?

Matt Tamanini

One way or the other, the world of sports broadcasting is in for a seismic shift following the upcoming NFL season. After the 2022 campaign, the league’s incredibly valuable out-of-market package, the NFL Sunday Ticket, will be looking for a new home after living exclusively on DIRECTV since its launch in 1994.

Apple is believed to be the frontrunner to land the package, but Amazon is also reportedly still in the mix. Last week, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell told CNBC that he believed that the Sunday Ticket would end up on a streaming service come the 2023 season although ESPN+ appears to have balked at the ballooning price tag.

On Monday, Sports Illustrated welcomed a guest columnist to shed some insight into the NFL’s media future. The league’s chief media and business officer Brian Rolapp shared his perspectives — and some vague news nuggets — in the column about where the NFL was moving in terms of media.

The executive did not spend much time in the piece on the future of Sunday Ticket, but he did say that the league views the upcoming platform change as an opportunity for the NFL to reprioritize how it delivers the package.

“We believe it can be a lot better and we are planning a new rollout of NFL Sunday Ticket for the 2023 season,” he wrote. “While we are not ready to reveal that just yet, one thing we can say is it will be more innovative, accessible and digital.”

Certainly moving the out-of-market package from satellite to streaming will provide a much more accessible and digital experience for consumers, but as the league’s contracts with CBS and Fox require Sunday Ticket to be priced at a premium level and not automatically included in any existing subscriptions, it will not be nearly as accessible as some fans would like.

However, Rolapp also promised exciting changes coming for NFL Media, the league-owned umbrella that oversees the NFL Network, NFL Redzone, NFL.com, and the NFL App. Throughout the course of the year, reports have circulated that the league was interested in selling off part or all of NFL Media, and that Apple was interested in gobbling up the studio and all other available NFL rights.

If Apple were to land the rights to the Sunday Ticket, the package could be the cornerstone of a much larger, football-focused hub within Apple TV — much like the forthcoming launch of its Major League Soccer-specific streaming service.

Last month, the tech giant landed a 10-year deal with the domestic soccer league to broadcast all games including MLS teams for a decade, starting next year. The vast majority of those games will appear on an MLS-only streaming service with some also being available to Apple TV+ subscribers and a handful would be available for free via the Apple TV app.

At the time of the announcement, we wondered if that would be the blueprint for how Apple approached any potential NFL agreements, and while Rolapp’s column in no way confirmed that, his comments about consolidation did leave open the door for the possibility.

“The change and consolidation occurring across the media landscape is creating opportunities for us to take NFL Media to its next stage of growth and provide fans with even greater coverage of their favorite sport,” he wrote. “In the not-too-distant future, you will see a whole new NFL Media, allowing fans to access an even better NFL Network, NFL Films and NFL RedZone on your terms.”

The NFL currently makes approximately $35 million per month from cable and satellite carriage fees for the NFL Network alone. So it is unlikely that the league would move the channel to Apple exclusively, but by indicating that fans would be able to watch “on your terms,” Rolapp seems to be indicating that there will be opportunities to watch the network outside of a traditional pay-TV bundle.

Packaging NFL Network, the NFL Films library, and the Sunday whip-around NFL Redzone experience inside a siloed Apple TV hub would be a huge opportunity for the league to welcome in more cord-cutters and — even more dramatically — for Apple to introduce its streaming platform to more consumers.

Rolapp also confirmed that the forthcoming NFL+ streaming service will be available as part of the existing NFL app. Goodell confirmed that it would be available to fans ahead of the start of games this fall, and reports indicate that it will cost $5 per month.

In his SI article, Rolapp confirmed that the service will give fans access to local and national games on mobile devices, as well as out-of-market preseason games on any device, radio broadcasts for all games, as well as NFL Network and NFL Films content on-demand. If other NFL Media content lands in an Apple TV vertical, it would not be surprising if NFL+ gets folded in there as well.

With streaming services becoming an increasingly important part of live sports rights negotiations, the flexibility and accessibility of services will undoubtedly become an important part of leagues’ future plans. Currently, many sports organizations are siding with the visibility and familiarity of traditional TV partners, but streamers are not so slowly — and even less subtly — creeping into the space. If the NFL were to make a big splash via a dedicated hub on Apple TV, that could completely revolutionize the way that sports and streaming work together in the future.

NFL Sunday Ticket

NFL Sunday Ticket is a subscription video streaming service that allows football fans to watch every live out-of-market NFL game on Sunday afternoons. It is included free for new DirecTV subscribers (allowing streaming through the NFL Sunday Ticket App), or it can be purchased as a standalone streaming product if you live in a dorm or apartment without access to the satellite version of NFL Sunday Ticket.

Unlike NFL RedZone, which bounces from game to game, Sunday Ticket is superior for fans who want to see every play of their favorite teams, even if they don’t live where the games are locally televised.

Sunday Ticket offers three plans: the Student Plan for US$ 99.96 / año, the To Go Plan for US$ 293.96 / año, and the Max Plan for US$ 395.99 / año.

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