Cable/satellite isn’t dead, but it’s hanging onto life by a thread, and the biggest reason why many people still have cable is leaving very soon. DirecTV has been the only place for NFL Sunday Ticket for several years now. While an average NFL fan may only want CBS or FOX for their local team, sports bars and avid NFL fans have had to deal with cable companies and pay a decent-sized fee in order to get access to every game every week (or they could use illegal streaming services). That will no longer be the case after the 2023 season, as DirecTV’s exclusive contract with the NFL is set to expire, and several of the big streaming companies are already putting in bids to secure the rights next year.
Apple, Netflix, Disney, and Amazon are just some of the names being tossed around the conference table for this deal. The NFL is hoping to receive at least $2 billion a year for the rights which would not only include exclusivity to Sunday Ticket packages on their service (barring whether or not they’d be willing to sell the satellite rights back to DirecTV), but also a stake in the league’s in-house media company and mobile rights.
Why does any of this matter though? Sunday Ticket hasn’t exactly been the most appealing plan for potential buyers. Like I said earlier, many NFL fans just preferred local games or NFL RedZone over what Sunday Ticket had to offer, so why are so many big platforms suddenly dying to get their hands on it? Well, as the streaming business has become more and more lucrative, direct-to-consumer (DTC) content has become more and more financially viable, and sports are the most popular DTC content out there right now. Sure, DirecTV never did much with the rights, but with a few tweaks and touch-ups, access to every NFL game would be a tremendous opportunity for any company to expand their brand. So, what would those changes be and how would they affect our viewing experience as fans? I spoke with Dustin York, associate professor of communications at Maryville University, for some insight.
York is a big believer in personalization. Whether it be through data farming or good ol’ fashioned surveys, personalization is the key for any company to connect with its consumers. “How can my sports bet, or my fantasy football league, make its way into how I watch the game?” asked York. York went on to praise other companies for how they’ve integrated connectivity into their streaming services “Like pausing on Amazon Prime to see which actors are in the current scene, give me the opportunity to see information about the players currently on screen. Or perhaps where to buy that great hoody the coach is wearing on the sideline.” York not only expects these types of changes to be made to Sunday Ticket, but believes it would be a massive missed opportunity for whoever ends up with the rights to pass on these types of suggestions.
That all sounds great, but in my personal experience, there have always been two things that have made Sunday Ticket an unappealing option for NFL football: price and the accessibility of illegal streaming services. I’m not going to name any of the sites I, or anybody I know use, because I’m a man of the people, but why would anyone be willing to pay for something they can get online for free? Sure, the personalization of this content could be an appealing factor, but I would think those benefits would only add to the price.
The Sunday Ticket currently costs about $400/year without DirecTV, and just under $300/year with DirecTV. I don’t want to pay that much! I have all the fantasy and betting content I need on my phone already. I don’t need any of that nonsense on my television screen at that price.
York agrees with that sentiment. “While streaming service stock price used to live by a model of building up subscribers at all cost, even if that meant losing revenue, recent worries like Netflix losing 200,000 subscribers have made services think twice.” With so many companies offering streaming services nowadays, consumers are far less likely to stick with one specific site if it’s not priced well. So, how would Sunday Ticket’s new owner try to find that happy medium between the people willing to pay subscription fees and those who aren’t? Advertisements, most likely. York explains, “Look for ad and ad-free offerings emerging to offset potentially rising costs – like options with HBO Max.”
Still, I can’t help but think that even with a free option, Sunday Ticket would still be behind RedZone in user-friendliness. Not only is RedZone always focused on the most exciting parts of games (i.e.: touchdowns, field goals, and red zone drives), but they also do it entirely commercial-free. It’s only $5 a month. How are you supposed to compete with that? Sunday Ticket would have to offer a lot of benefits plus a comparable price in order to compete, and I’m not sure it can.
I have no doubt that whoever buys Sunday Ticket will find a way to compete with RedZone and other illegal streaming sites, but in its current state, Sunday Ticket seems like a luxury only the most extreme of NFL fans would be willing to purchase. There’s a long way to go before it’s ready to take over television sets across America.