Apple TV+ May Score Exclusive Rights to Stream NFL Sunday Ticket Next Year

NFL Sunday Ticket App on iPhone Credit: OpturaDesign / Shutterstock
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It looks like Apple hasn’t given up its hopes to bring live sports to Apple TV+, with a new report that it’s back at the table with the NFL about streaming NFL Sunday Ticket games as the rights come back around for renewal.

This is far from the first time that we’ve heard of Apple exploring this idea, however. Apple has been in talks with the NFL off and on since at least 2016 — a year before we heard even the first rumours of Apple’s larger streaming ambitions.

It wasn’t especially clear what Apple was up to back then, but the deal on the table at the time was for NFL Thursday Night Football. The rights for that ended up going to Amazon, however, which already had its Prime Video service up and running.

The deal with Amazon was subsequently renewed in 2018 for another two years at a price of $130 million, and while there was some speculation that Apple was trying to snag the rights when they came up for renewal last year, Amazon ended up scoring an exclusive ten-year deal with the NFL instead.

However, Thursday Night Football isn’t the only game in town, and now that NFL Sunday Ticket is once again up for grabs, it looks like Apple is looking to throw its hat back into the ring.

According to The Information, Apple has been in discussions with NFL executives to pick up the rights to Sunday Ticket once they expire in 2022. Of course, Apple isn’t the only player, and sources say it isn’t even considered a serious contender right now.

Apple’s Sporting Investments

The rumours of Apple showing interest in NFL Sunday Ticket first began to circulate last year, following reports that the incumbent rights-holder, DirecTV, was planning to walk away when the current deal expires in 2022.

It now appears that the satellite provider’s decision has been made, following its acquisition by AT&T. According to sources, NFL Sunday Ticket has long been a loss-leader for DirecTV, so it’s not particularly surprising that AT&T wanted to unload this unnecessary expense.

Sources indicate that DirecTV has been paying the NFL around $1.5 billion annually for Sunday Ticket rights, yet it’s lost close to $2.5 billion on the deal overall. The NFL is expected to charge even more this time around.

The NFL has also been under a fair bit of pressure in recent years to open Sunday Ticket up beyond satellite providers, particularly as most of the world shifts toward streaming services.

Although The Information notes that Apple has long been reluctant to invest heavily in sports and “shiny floor shows” like Dancing with the Stars, there are also indications that some of these priorities may be changing.

For example, last year Apple hired James DeLorenzo, Amazon’s former head of sports programming, to lead its own Apple TV+ sports division. DeLorenzo was the driving force behind Amazon’s initial deal to stream NFL Thursday Night Football back in 2016.

It’s also been known for a while that Apple CEO Tim Cook is on very friendly terms with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, and the two have been known to talk. In fact, as 9to5Mac notes, the two of them are hanging out at a “summer camp for billionaires” in Sun Valley this week, and it’s a pretty safe bet that the topic is going to come up.

Sources haven’t provided any insight into what Apple might do with NFL Sunday Ticket if it does indeed get its hands on the rights. While it seems obvious that it would become part of Apple TV+, there’s a good possibility Apple would bill it as an add-on service, or perhaps as part of a higher-tier premium package.

Of course, it’s still far from a given that Apple is going to succeed here. While the company has very deep pockets, it’s not always just about money, and both Amazon and Disney are said to be in the running as well, along with a plethora of traditional broadcast media companies.

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