Will NFL Sunday Ticket Leave DirecTV?
Might there be a new bidding war over who will get the rights?
DirecTV has been bleeding subscribers for some time, and multiple reports over the course of the year have AT&T seeking to sell off all or part of it, likely for much less than it paid for the satellite TV service back in 2016.
One of the few major things DirecTV still has going for it is exclusive rights to NFL Sunday Ticket, the NFL package that offers every out-of-market game to football fans. While the equivalent packages for other sports are available on multiple platforms, DirecTV has had the exclusive on Sunday Ticket ever since it first launched in 1994. It was in fact, Jon Taffer, the future host of “Bar Rescue,” who is credited with inventing the idea of Sunday Ticket, at the time when he was owning a bar in Chicago.
However, there have been rumblings that this exclusivity is coming to an end. The current agreement expires after the 2022 season, and there have been talk of late, especially with the DirecTV ownership situation in flux, that DirecTV may lose its exclusivity, or perhaps lose the package altogether.
Now, a new report is naming some potential suitors for the coveted NFL service.
Sports Business Daily is reporting that several media companies, including Amazon, ESPN, Comcast and the sports streaming service DAZN, “have showed some interest” in Sunday Ticket, with the first three companies likely tying them up in some way with Amazon Prime, ESPN+ and Peacock, respectively. DAZN is an independent company, headed by former ESPN executive John Skipper, which is known for showing boxing, mixed martial arts, soccer and other international sports.
It’s unclear how the package would be delivered by those potential digital partners, or whether the NFL will choose one exclusive partner or more than one.
The report went on to say that the NFL will not deal with the Sunday Ticket negotiations until after it wraps up its current talks about new network TV deals, something that’s expected to be done in “a couple of months.” The SBJ piece also stated that AT&T “has made it clear that it is willing to give up exclusivity, or possibly, the entire package altogether,” and that “Sunday Ticket” will likely be “primarily a digital service” in its post-2022 incarnation.
The loss of Sunday Ticket would have the potential to trigger a death spiral for DirecTV. Many homes, as well as restaurants and bars, subscribe to DirecTV in order to offer Sunday Ticket to their customers, and the satellite service would likely lose a huge chunk of that business.
Another piece by Sports Business Daily earlier this month stated that DirecTV is paying $1.5 billion a year for exclusivity under the current deal, a number that a bidding war would likely push higher.
Stephen Silver, a technology writer for The National Interest, is a journalist, essayist and film critic, who is also a contributor to 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.