With Apple Out of NFL Sunday Ticket Bidding, What Are the Chances for Every Other Streamer to Land Package?
It didn’t come as a complete surprise as word has been trickling out for weeks, but over the weekend, it was reported that Apple had withdrawn from negotiations with the NFL to become the new home of its out-of-market package, the NFL Sunday Ticket.
The league’s contract with DIRECTV — which has been the home of Sunday Tickets since the package’s inaugural season in 1994 — ends following the 2022-23 regular season. Over the summer, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said that he expects Sunday Ticket to land on a streaming service come fall, and many had assumed that service would be Apple TV+ for the majority of the year. However, now that Apple has reportedly pulled back from negotiations, that opens the door for another media company to reassert itself as a contender to land the sought-after rights.
So, we here at The Streamable have put some not-at-all scientific percentages on the chances for other streamers to land the Sunday Ticket when its new home is officially announced, likely in the new year.
Prime Video | Chances to Land Sunday Ticket Rights: 35%
Before Apple moved into the lead early in 2022, the thought was that Amazon was in the strongest position to claim the out-of-market rights. This fall, Prime Video became the first streaming service to have exclusive NFL rights when it took over broadcasting “Thursday Night Football.” While the response has been mixed at times from fans, the ratings have been fairly strong and will likely only increase as more and more Americans become comfortable with streaming live sports.
Reports have put the NFL’s price tag for Sunday Ticket between $2 and $3 billion dollars per season, meaning that if the new home for the package sticks with the top price that DIRECTV currently has, it would still require between 5 million and 7.5 million subscriptions just to break even; it has been estimated that roughly 2 million people sign up for Sunday Ticket each season.
Because Sunday Ticket simply broadcasts games that are already airing on CBS and FOX, the streamer doesn’t have the ability to sell commercial time during the broadcasts. Of course, it could sell ancillary advertising on the Sunday Ticket hub and individual game and team pages in the app, but even that is not likely to make up the staggering difference in price that it would take to make paying up to $3 billion for the Sunday Ticket rights worthwhile.
That is why Amazon’s ability to use the Sunday Ticket as a way to bring even more customers into the retailer’s fold could make sense. Whether it is simply adding more traffic, or picking up extra data points, or becoming more engrained in the online habits of consumers, Amazon clearly believes that there is value to being in the NFL business.
That is why companies like Amazon and Apple (more on them in a minute) are the only ones with an obvious path toward making the investment profitable, even if it will still be an uphill climb. On its own, and at the NFL’s current asking price, Sunday Ticket can almost only work as a loss leader; bringing in eyeballs to sell them on something else, be it general online retail merchandise or higher-cost electronics.
Apple TV+ | Chances to Land Sunday Ticket Rights: 22%
There is little doubt that Amazon is now in the pole position to land the Sunday Ticket, if you forgive the mixed-sports metaphor. But, just because Apple has reportedly left the bargaining table, don’t expect them to be out of the picture completely. Though in a different way than Prime Video, Apple TV+ is a relatively small part of an otherwise massive business. From the Friday night baseball games this season to the 10-year deal with Major League Soccer beginning in 2023, Apple clearly sees live sports rights as a value-add to its platform.
However, the types of investments that the company has made in sports thus far pale in comparison to what it would need to pony up to land the NFL package. Apple’s entire decade-long deal with the MLS reportedly cost them $2.5 billion, which might not even be enough to cover a single season of the Sunday Ticket. Beginning next year, the soccer package will cost customers $14.99 per month during the season or $99 for the entire season. So, if we keep things consistent by comparing it with Sunday Ticket, at $99 (not accounting for any price changes over the next 10 years), Apple would need to average roughly 2.53 million subscriptions to pay for the investment that way alone. Knowing that Sunday Ticket generally only accounts for 2 million subs makes it difficult to imagine MLS fans covering for the service on its own.
But, one difference between the MLS package and the Sunday Ticket is that Apple will be able to sell ads on the soccer matches, and the linear broadcasts on FOX will carry Apple branding as part of the deal.
Even so, the ability to integrate in-demand NFL content into its fledgling service is clearly something that Apple would like to do. While they apparently are balking at some of the contractual stipulations that are imposed upon whichever company lands the Sunday Ticket, if the league had already determined that Apple was the best landing spot for the package, by walking away from the table the tech company just might have strengthened its negotiating position. So don’t be surprised if Tim Cook ends up handing a monster check over to Goodell.
YouTube TV | Chances to Land Sunday Ticket Rights: 21%
Google was a late entrant into the Sunday Ticket sweepstakes, only entering the bidding in July, months after other media companies had already been in discussions. Then in November, shortly after Apple’s negotiations hit their first stumbling blocks, the New York Times reported that YouTube TV was emerging as a legitimate contender to land the package.
Google’s live TV streaming service is a unique option for Sunday Ticket, because it is the only platform in the bidding that is not primarily an on-demand streamer. As a vMVPD (virtual, multichannel video programming distributor), YouTube TV would provide a viewing experience most similar to what customers are familiar with from the package’s DIRECTV days. However, the major question surrounding this potential Sunday Ticket deal is if the company would require subscribers to also sign up for YouTube TV, as the satellite provider did before.
Goodell has talked about looking forward to Sunday Ticket innovations due to the package moving to streaming, but if it remains only available to a limited number of people willing to sign up for the live TV streaming service, that could not only tremendously stunt the expansion of the package, but could also make it increasingly difficult to turn a profit at such a hefty price tag.
While Google is obviously large enough and financially stable enough to absorb the cost, it would almost certainly have to allow non-linear subscribers to sign up for Sunday Ticket à la carte to make it worth the investment. Perhaps not completely coincidentally, in late September, the live streamer began allowing consumers to subscribe to premium streaming services through its platform without having to sign up for a base plan. This very well might have been a move to prove to the NFL that it was willing to open its doors to customers without forcing them to go all in as DIRECTV did.
ESPN+ | Chances to Land Sunday Ticket Rights: 11%
Fairly early on in the negotiating process, it was reported that Disney was likely out of the running for the Sunday Ticket rights simply because of the cost. As the linear TV business continues to erode, company execs insist that ESPN remains an important part of their television plans, but even the worldwide leader in sports apparently has its limits.
As the home of “Monday Night Football,” Disney is already involved with the league, and earlier this fall, ESPN+ aired its first-ever exclusive NFL game and will simulcast four games over the remainder of the season, including its first playoff game. However, even with deals with the NHL, MLB, loads of college conferences, and much more, it appears that the asking price is just too steep for Mickey and friends. Of course, that could all change now that Bob Iger has reascended to the top of the company after Bob Chapek’s ouster last month.
While taking on anything the size of Sunday Ticket would require a substantial expansion and investment for any streaming service, ESPN+ does have a bit of a comp when it comes to adding packages on top of the normal subscription. Currently, the streamer broadcasts UFC pay-per-view events on a monthly basis, but to have the ability to buy the events, customers must first sign up for an ESPN+ subscription either individually or as part of a Disney Bundle.
If the streamer was to land Sunday Ticket, it would almost certainly work similarly, with the monthly fee of $9.99 to $19.99 serving as an entry fee to then have the ability to pay the roughly $300 to $400 for the NFL season package.
NFL+ | Chances to Land Sunday Ticket Rights: 10%
This is an intriguing option and one that would almost certainly create waves in the media world and catapult the NFL’s oft-derided new service to the center of the sports streaming discussion. When the league launched its own subscription streaming service in July it came with two subscription options; standard NFL+ offered live local and primetime games on mobile devices and tablets, as well as out-of-market preseason games, radio broadcasts from both teams, and archive content. That option ran $4.99 per month or $29.99 for an entire year.
The NFL+ Premium plan runs $9.99 per month and $79.99 annually and includes all of the content from the lower tier, as well as features including ad-free game replays — in both full and condensed versions — as well as coaches film and all-22 options; much of this content had previously been found on NFL Game Pass.
When there is this much money on the table, it would be a pretty surprising move for the NFL to turn the package into a direct-to-consumer (DTC) play, but Major League Baseball’s out-of-market games have always been handled that way via MLB.tv. Of course, both the inventory of games and the popularity of the sports don’t exactly make this a perfect comparison, but if the NFL was to go it alone, it would not be completely unprecedented.
Everybody Else | Chances to Land Sunday Ticket Rights: 1%
It certainly would not be out of the realm of possibilities for the streaming service of a network that already airs NFL games — like NBC’s Peacock or CBS’s Paramount+ (FOX doesn’t have a subscription streaming service) — to get in on the bidding for Sunday Ticket, but neither has been substantively connected to the negotiations at any point throughout the process, so that is unlikely.
Similarly, both Warner Bros. Discovery and Netflix don’t appear to be in the market to add major live sports rights at this point. WBD is currently in so much debt that it is slashing content left and right, to the point that it has even suggested that it might not renew its deal with NBA to air games on TNT. So, it seems to follow that if CEO David Zaslav is contemplating moving on from the NBA, the NFL might be a bit out of his company’s price range at the moment.
Netflix, on the other hand, is reportedly only interested in live sports rights for leagues and competitions that it can own, in order to create an expanded streaming universe of content around the actual competitions; and even as big as Netflix is, that seems unlikely for the NFL.
So, unless something dramatically changes with one of these services, it seems unlikely that there will be a legitimate dark horse coming down the stretch to steal Sunday Ticket away.
DIRECTV | Chances to Land Sunday Ticket Rights: 0%… and 95%
At this point, there is a 0% chance that, come fall, football fans will be able sit on their couch and turn on DIRECTV to watch the Sunday Ticket, but there is also about a 95% chance that Sunday Ticket will be on DIRECTV in 2023 anyway. While the satellite provider is not in the mix for the at-home rights to the out-of-market package, it is likely to land the business rights to Sunday Ticket. The reason that every sports bar in the country can turn on any NFL game on any given Sunday is that they all subscribe to DIRECTV, specifically for that reason.
The company has spent decades building up that part of its business, and no streaming service has yet to even begin that type of expansion. There are certain technical limitations with internet reliability and latency that make streaming games in large venues like that a bit more cumbersome and and unreliable than most business and fans are comfortable with at this point. So, it likely benefits everyone if DIRECTV maintains that specific carveout in the Sunday Ticket rights.
In fact, Amazon partnered with DIRECTV to bring “Thursday Night Football” to bars and restaurants this season, so if Prime Video does land the Sunday Ticket rights, that relationship has already been forged.
So, no matter who ends up with the Sunday Ticket rights, chances are good that they will turn to the satellite provider to bridge the gap to businesses.
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 on YouTube or YouTube TV.
If you use YouTube TV as your live TV provider, you’ll save $100 off the package price.
Users can choose to add NFL RedZone, which bounces from game to game. But 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.