Google beat out Amazon and Apple to secure a multi-year deal for NFL Sunday Ticket, giving the company exclusive rights to stream most NFL games via its growing YouTube TV platform starting with the 2023 season.
The competition for NFL Sunday Ticket, a “staple of traditional television” currently offered via DirecTV, is the latest sign of lucrative live sports packages moving to streaming platforms run by tech giants.
As more people cut the cord, sports leagues are increasingly engaging with tech companies as their existing deals with traditional cable providers expire. Those companies are hungry for valuable content such as live sports — one of the most-watched telecasts — to draw more subscribers to their respective streaming platforms, which mostly offer on-demand content such as movies and TV shows.
- Amazon paid a reported $11 billion to get exclusive streaming rights to Thursday Night Football over the next decade. The Seattle company has added other live sports to its Prime platform, such as European soccer and New York Yankees games, in a bid to grow its content library, bolster its advertising arm, and add more Prime subscribers that buy products on its marketplace.
- YouTube has streamed a small number of exclusive Major League Baseball games over the past four seasons and began offering MLB.TV last year for $24.99/month on YouTube TV.
- Apple earlier this year inked a key deal with Major League Soccer to stream all matches for the next 10 years, and has a streaming deal with Major League Baseball.
- Netflix has reportedly shown interest in live sports deals, which would add to its popular sports-related docuseries, including “Formula 1: Drive to Survive” and “Last Chance U.”
Live sports is a “differentiator from on-demand,” said Wedbush analyst Michael Pachter.
Each company brings their own model for streaming, Pachter noted. If Amazon won the Sunday Ticket rights, it would need to figure out whether to offer NFL games for free, as it does for Thursday Night Football, or change the Prime membership model with new tiers.
“I think that’s problematic for Amazon, and a nice fit for Google,” Pachter said.
Pachter expects Google to offer Sunday Ticket in the same way DirecTV does, for $400 a year to YouTube TV subscribers who already pay $64.99 per month to access the service, which recently surpassed Netflix as the most popular streaming platform. Google said Thursday it will offer games both as an add-on package to YouTube TV and a standalone offering on YouTube Primetime Channels. YouTubeTV has more than five million subscribers and trial accounts.
Sunday Ticket has about 1.5 million subscribers who can access all out-of-market games broadcast on FOX and CBS. Google reportedly paid about $2 billion a year for the rights; DirecTV, which has aired Sunday Ticket since its inception in 1994, was paying $1.5 billion, the Wall Street Journal reported.
The NFL said it is still working out details on Sunday Ticket distribution plans for commercial establishments such as bars and restaurants. Amazon partnered with DirectTV to show Thursday Night Football outside of residential homes.
Pachter said Amazon may elect to follow its Thursday Night Football strategy in other leagues, such as buying the rights for one NBA or NHL game per week. The NBA’s current cable deals expire after the 2024-25 season, and tech giants are expected to bid on streaming rights.
Tech companies are investing in the sports industry in other ways, too.
Sports franchises themselves are looking to bolster their own technology and streaming offerings. The NBA’s Los Angeles Clippers, led by former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, rolled out a new $199/year streaming service in October called ClipperVision. The strategy is the sports equivalent of a retail brand selling directly to consumers as an alternative to traditional distribution channels, establishing a tighter connection to their customers, or fans.
The leagues are also testing in-house streaming services. NFL launched NFL+ for $4.99/month in July; it streams local and primetime games, but only to mobile devices. MLB and the NBA offer similar services.
Traditional cable providers also have streaming platforms. But cord-cutting is proving to be a problem in regard to securing media rights deals. Subscriber declines at DirectTV “made it difficult to justify the costs of holding on to Sunday Ticket,” the Wall Street Journal reported.
The cable companies still do have big deals with the NFL. Last year Fox, CBS, NBC, and ESPN signed long-term deals with the NFL reportedly worth more than $100 billion.
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