Why Sunday Ticket Is the NFL’s Hottest Free Agent

Interest in the out-of-market TV package is greater than its recent media deals, an NFL insider tells TheWrap

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The hottest free agent on the NFL market right now could be Sunday Ticket, which has suitors lining up to take over for DirecTV.

Fresh off securing more than $100 billion for its new media rights deals, the league is expecting a second financial windfall for its NFL Sunday Ticket package. The NFL’s current deal with DirecTV expires after 2022, and it is widely expected that DirecTV will not renew.

An individual familiar with the NFL’s negotiations told TheWrap the league has gotten more interest for Sunday Ticket than it did for its recent media rights, and expects a “healthy” increase on the price tag. The interested parties include both traditional and digital players. The NFL got a steep increase with its new 11-year TV deals that will run from 2023 through the 2033 season: The current deals put $27 billion in the league’s bank account.

DirecTV pays the NFL around $1.5 billion a year to offer Sunday Ticket exclusively, which allows fans to watch every Sunday afternoon out-of-market game. To put that in perspective: Amazon alone will pay the NFL $1 billion annually to grab the single “Thursday Night Football” game for itself.

On Friday, The Information reported that Apple was among those that have held early discussions with the league about the Sunday Ticket package, though the individual cautioned that no formal talks have yet taken place and a new deal is expected to be completed over the next year. Both Apple and the NFL declined to comment on The Information’s report.

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell attended Allen & Co.’s conference this week in Sun Valley, Idaho, a private gathering of top CEOs. (You can read more about the “Summer Camp for Billionaires” here.)

NFL commissioner spotted at Sun Valley conference in Idaho (Getty Images)

Apple’s interest would make sense, as it would potentially add a slew of NFL fans as subscribers, while also giving the iPhone maker the ability to package its products with NFL games.

ESPN chief Jimmy Pitaro has also previously expressed interest in grabbing Sunday Ticket for ESPN+. “We’ve had exploratory conversations with the league. Sunday Ticket is an incredibly valuable product. It’s interesting to us,” Pitaro said back in March. “When the league is ready, we’re interested in having that conversation with them.”

Sunday Ticket has been exclusive to DirecTV customers since its inception in 1994, and has been one of the satellite TV company’s key marketing advantages over rival pay-TV providers. However, DirecTV, like cable operators, have been hemorrhaging subscribers — the struggling company was spun off in February by AT&T in a deal with TPG.

In recent years, DirecTV has tested out streaming versions of Sunday Ticket that would be available to non-DirecTV subscribers. But this has been restricted mainly to college dorm rooms and apartments in major cities that don’t allow for satellite dishes to be installed. Last season, DirecTV quietly expanded the eligibility to most consumers.


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