It’s Not Apple’s Yet | NFL Still Deciding Which Streamer Will Get ‘Sunday Ticket’

Rights to the league’s Sunday Ticket could still be anybody’s game.
NFL players on field Credit: Jamie Lamor Thompson / Shutterstock
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Rumors of Apple’s “done deal” with the NFL may have been premature, as it looks like the rights to the league’s Sunday Ticket could still be anybody’s game.

In April, Matthew Belloni of Puck reported insiders telling him the deal was “Apple’s to lose,” with some even suggesting everything’s done and Apple has simply been keeping it under wraps.

While it’s still entirely possible that Apple is the front-runner, it appears that the deal is far from done, according to a new report from CNBC.

The ball is now in the NFL’s court, as at least three major players have submitted their bids to become the new home of the NFL Sunday Ticket package. This includes Apple, of course, but it’s also up against Disney and Amazon.

Sources say the final bids were only submitted last week, and the NFL is still trying to decide which one it will partner with. Discussions with all three bidders are ongoing as part of that process, presumably to explore some of the finer details.

However, there’s a lot more at stake here than NFL Sunday Ticket, so if Apple does get the nod, it could become the biggest deal in the company’s history, beating out its famous $3 billion acquisition of Beats.

NFL Media, Mobile Rights, and more

According to CNBC, it’s not just Sunday Ticket that’s up for grabs here. The NFL expects the buyer to pay over $2 billion for a package that will also include a stake in NFL Media and possibly even the NFL’s mobile streaming rights, following the recent conclusion of its deal with Verizon.

With everything involved, the NFL may be looking for nearly $3 billion for this Sunday Ticket package, although sources say it’s unlikely to get that much.

The current right-holder, DirecTV, has been paying $1.5 billion per year for the existing rights to Sunday Ticket, and CNBC reports that the NFL has been looking for a 100% increase for all of its primary game packages.

However, unlike more lucrative ones like Thursday Night Football, Sunday Ticket has been a money-losing proposition for DirecTV. That’s the primary reason its new owner, AT&T, plans to walk away from the deal once the 2022–23 season is over.

Ironically, when AT&T acquired DirecTV in 2015, the entire $49 billion deal was contingent on renewing the NFL Sunday Ticket contract. In the years since, it’s barely been able to attract two million subscribers annually, far fewer than it needs to break even.

Many analysts have expected Apple to be a front-runner for Sunday Ticket simply because of the NFL’s desire to keep its portfolio as diverse as possible. Amazon recently landed an $11-billion deal to broadcast Thursday Night Football for the next ten years, and Disney has been home to Monday Night Football since 2011, at a cost of $1.9 billion per year.

The deal for Sunday Ticket is expected to land somewhere in the $2.5 billion range. If Apple comes out victorious after adjusting for inflation, it would be paying as much per year as it paid to buy Beats outright in 2014.

Although the deal is expected to include a minority stake in NFL Media, which includes cable networks NFL Network and RedZone and the website, it’s hard to see what interest Apple would have in that side of the business. The legacy pay-TV services are reportedly “hemorrhaging millions of subscribers each year.” Even so, the Sunday Ticket rights could be lucrative enough that Apple might just decide to take the bitter with the better.

CNBC also reveals that if Apple wins, it won’t have much sway on how it prices Sunday Ticket. The NFL already has deals with CBS and Fox that mandate a minimum premium price for Sunday Ticket to prevent drawing viewers away from local market Sunday afternoon games.

This guarantees that an Apple NFL Sunday Ticket service won’t simply be bundled with Apple TV+ like MLB Friday Night Baseball. The package typically costs about $300/year, and Apple would be expected to continue charging that in some way, either as a premium Apple TV+ NFL package or as an entirely separate offering like its new Major League Soccer deal.

[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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