With Apple bowing out, YouTube is close to scoring NFL Sunday Ticket

Enlarge / SANTA CLARA, CALIFORNIA – DECEMBER 11: The San Francisco 49ers new star quarterback, Brock Purdy, celebrates during a blowout 35-7 win over the Tom Brady-led Buccaneers.

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Multiple reports out there from The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, and several others all claim Google is the new frontrunner in NFL Sunday Ticket negotiations, and a deal could be reached sometime this week.

The NFL is looking for a new broadcast partner for NFL Sunday Ticket, one of the biggest TV packages in all of sports. It’s around 13 live “out of market” NFL games every week—basically, everything that’s not on ESPN, Amazon, or on your local broadcast channel. For years, the package’s home was DirecTV, with the satellite provider paying $1.5 billion annually to be the only platform with every NFL game. With massive customer losses and AT&T spinning off the beleaguered satellite provider just to get it off the books, DirecTV is lucky to keep its lights on. Sunday Ticket is going to cost somebody billions of dollars, and since it’s not going to go back to DirecTV, all the big streamers have shown up to kick the tires.

Disney, Google, Amazon, and Apple were all involved in the Sunday Ticket negotiations. Amazon is the current leader in online NFL content after the company paid $1 billion a year to take over Thursday Night Football as exclusive content for Amazon Prime Video. Disney is also a major NFL partner via ESPN, which, in addition to all the usual sports news coverage, is the home of Monday Night Football. Google and Apple don’t have any big NFL packages, although Apple inked a similar “every game” deal with Major League Soccer earlier this year—that deal cost $2.5 billion total for 10 years of content.

Apple was once considered the frontrunner in the Sunday Ticket deal but reportedly dropped out due to the NFL’s pricing restrictions and the incredible cost. Disney is also apparently out of the running, which makes Google the frontrunner. The New York Times report says Google is considering paying about $2.5 billion per year for the package, which would be one billion more than DirecTV. Typically these deals are 10-year contracts, so don’t make any dead Google product jokes in the comments, thanks.

It’s hard to really qualify Google’s YouTube as a streamer in the same category as Amazon Prime Video, Disney+, and Apple TV. Those other brands all produce their own premium content, while YouTube has given up on Hollywood-style original content. What YouTube does have is a great option for cord-cutters: YouTube TV, which is just all the stalwart cable TV channels like CNN, ESPN, MTV, and your local channels, all delivered over the Internet.

Nobody really knows what the Sunday Ticket package will look like online or which part of YouTube it will be associated with. The DirecTV package forces you to buy every NFL game in a big bundle for around $300 a year. Most sports fans would love an al-la-carte option, where you could pay only for the games from your favorite out-of-market team, but that’s probably a pipe dream. The most business-as-usual option would be a similarly priced add-on package for YouTube TV, which is already $65 a month. In its quest to replicate regular cable, YouTube TV already has several add-on packages, with NFL Network included in the base package and a “Sports Plus” add-on that adds the live highlight channel NFL RedZone and several other sports-dedicated channels .

There’s a reason not to expect a discount when Sunday Ticket moves online. According to an earlier report from CNBC, the NFL’s contracts with CBS and Fox “included language that mandates Sunday Ticket have a premium price so as not to pull too many eyeballs away from the local market Sunday afternoon games acquired by the broadcast networks.” That rules out most of the dramatic possibilities like a Google ad-supported tier. One report said Apple wanted to roll Sunday Ticket into the $6.99 cost of an Apple TV+ subscription. That would have put Apple TV in the households of many more people, and probably would have sold a lot of Apple hardware, but definitely sounds like it goes against the pricing promises the NFL made to its other broadcast partners.

The NYT report says, “Apple became skeptical that the Sunday Ticket package was worth what the NFL was seeking and ended serious conversations about a potential deal.” Questions about the value of Sunday Ticket for the broadcast partner are definitely valid. That report also says DirecTV has 1-2 million people paying for the Sunday Ticket package right now. At the normal $300-a-year price (and some people have discounts), that would be a total of about $600 million in revenue from a $1.5 billion-a-year deal. The full financial picture is more complicated than that thanks to things like sports bar pricing, but at the end of the day Sunday Ticket is a money-losing endeavor, and that’s before the price shoots up an extra billion dollars.

DirecTV’s Sunday Ticket deal expires at the end of this season, so a deal needs to be done soon.

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