Apple’s Acquisition of ‘NFL Sunday Ticket’ Streaming Rights Might Already Be a Done Deal

Insiders are saying “it’s Apple’s to lose.”
NFL Football Player Tom Brady Credit: Steve Jacobson / Shutterstock
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Now that Apple has made its first big foray into sports with Friday Night Baseball it looks like it may finally be ready to tackle the NFL.

Apple has been in talks with the NFL on and off for at least six years, but for the most part, its ambitions to score NFL games for streaming on Apple TV+ have never gained much traction. Apple’s original goal, NFL Thursday Night Football, ended up going to Amazon in what ultimately turned into a multi-billion dollars ten-year deal.

However, Apple is a company that’s not easily deterred when there’s something it wants; it has the tenacity to pursue “moonshot” deals — and the deep pockets needed to back that up. While throwing money at a problem may not always solve it, it certainly helps when it comes to being persistent.

So, two years ago, Apple set its sights on NFL Sunday Ticket instead. With rumors that incumbent rights-holder DirecTV was preparing to bow out of the deal upon its 2022 expiry, there was blood in the water; streaming companies began lining up like sharks for a bite of the action.

Insiders said that Sunday Ticket was costing DirecTV somewhere in the neighborhood of $1.5 billion a year, and it’s been a money-losing proposition. Now that DirecTV is under new management — AT&T acquired it in 2020 — it’s said to be in a hurry to get out of this arrangement.

It’s ‘Apple’s to Lose’

While we haven’t heard much about the NFL Sunday Ticket deal over the past few months, the clock is still ticking. The DirecTV deal ends this year, so somebody will have to pick up the rights.

Now, it looks like not only is Apple the front-runner for NFL Sunday Ticket, but the deal may already be done.

According to a new report from Matthew Belloni of Puck, insiders are saying “it’s Apple’s to lose,” and some are saying that it’s ready to go but that Apple wants to keep it under wraps until it’s prepared to make an announcement.

My sources say it’s Apple’s to lose, at this point. (One source told me this weekend that the deal is actually done and is being kept quiet at Apple’s request, which I haven’t confirmed and don’t know for a fact; Apple isn’t commenting.) Matthew Belloni

If it’s true that Apple has already closed a deal, it’s understandable how it may want to keep it quiet for the time being. It still has a few months before the NFL kicks off its 2022 season, and it’s not even expected to release the season schedule until a few weeks after the 2022 NFL Draft, which will run at the end of April.

So there’s no rush, and Apple likely wants to avoid taking the attention away from its MLB Friday Night Baseball deal, which is still pretty big news.

Belloni also suggests that Apple is being even more cautious because NFL football is a big deal, and it wants to make sure it handles the announcement properly.

Even after winning top Emmys and the best picture Oscar, C.E.O. Tim Cook has said Apple is merely in its early days of premium video, and nothing is more premium than NFL football. Matthew Belloni

The NFL Sunday Ticket deal will also make the $85 million that Apple paid for Friday Night Baseball look like peanuts.

After all, DirecTV was already paying $1.5 billion a year, and the NFL was reportedly planning a hefty price increase for the 2022 renewal. Most sources are pegging the deal somewhere in the $2.5 billion range — and it could climb even higher.

This means that to acquire the rights to stream NFL Sunday Ticket, Apple would be paying more than half as much — per year — as it cost to buy Beats in 2014, even after adjusting for inflation.

While $2.5 billion certainly isn’t a massive amount of money for a company like Apple, it’s still not pocket change. Consider that Apple Apple spent $6 billion on its entire opening lineup of original Apple TV+ shows. While it’s undoubtedly increased that budget since, NFL Sunday Ticket will still likely be the streaming service’s single most expensive property.

While Disney and Amazon could still be contenders for NFL Sunday Ticket, Belloni notes that both companies already have exclusive NFL packages, and “the NFL likes spreading its rights around, so everyone is invested in its success.”

Still, Apple’s days for NFL Sunday Ticket could be limited. A new report in The Atlantic notes that the league is also considering standing up its own “NFL+” streaming service. Belloni’s sources say that it’s looking at a $5/month price tag for this — similar to Apple TV+ — and would include some out-of-market games. This could risk diluting the value of NFL Sunday Ticket for Apple, as it would provide an alternative for casual fans that want to see more than just local broadcasts.

[The information provided in this article has NOT been confirmed by Apple and may be speculation. Provided details may not be factual. Take all rumors, tech or otherwise, with a grain of salt.]

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