For as long as it has existed, the NFL Sunday Ticket package has been available exclusively on DirecTV. But with that exclusive deal a year away from expiring, the NFL has made it clear that it wants to bring the out-of-market games package to a streaming partner.
This week, the league’s owners held their annual league meeting at the Breakers in Palm Beach, Florida, and the meetings ended on Wednesday without any resolution on the status of Sunday Ticket. In addition to some notable changes to the overtime rules in postseason games, there was a major development on a potential change in the NFL’s media landscape: the release of a streaming service.
The Athletic reported that the NFL is “developing a subscription streaming service that would include games, radio, podcasts, and team content.” The report noted that owners were briefed on the project during the meetings in Florida. While it has not been finalized, the platform may be called “NFL Plus.”
It appears that mobile streams of NFL games, which were free under a previous deal with Verizon, would now only be available to those with NFL Plus subscriptions. Fans can also watch on their phones through authenticated cable and virtual multichannel video programming distributors (vMVPD) subscriptions if their provider makes that available.
The service, per The Athletic's report, could be voted on as soon as the next owners meeting in May. The Athletic’s report also said that a decision on the future of Sunday Ticket is “still at the very least months away, if not longer,” as there’s still one more season to go on the existing Sunday Ticket deal.
Whenever the bidding gets going in earnest, Apple and Amazon are expected to compete with established broadcasters and NFL partners like Disney/ABC and Comcast/NBCUniversal. It is also possible that DirecTV could retain the satellite side of the deal, with one of the other bidders becoming the streaming partner.
Apple recently made its first major sports rights deal with an agreement to show Major League Baseball games on Friday nights. Apple is reportedly interested in a package deal to land Sunday Ticket, a share of NFL’s media arm, and a rights deal for mobile streaming of games. The Athletic reported that if Apple or Amazon ends up with the Sunday Ticket rights, they could be “involved” in the NFL Plus effort.
“Apple wants to bundle them all into one sweeping deal,” said sources. That would instantly make the tech giant, which has long avoided sports, one of the NFL’s biggest business partners," Front Office Sports reported earlier this month.
The Athletic stated, however, that the bidding for the different properties is going on “different tracks,” with a mobile decision likely coming first.
Stephen Silver, a technology writer for The National Interest, is a journalist, essayist and film critic, who is also a contributor to The Philadelphia Inquirer, Philly Voice, Philadelphia Weekly, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Living Life Fearless, Backstage magazine, Broad Street Review and Splice Today. The co-founder of the Philadelphia Film Critics Circle, Stephen lives in suburban Philadelphia with his wife and two sons. Follow him on Twitter at @StephenSilver.