Q. I read your story about DIRECTV possibly losing the NFL Sunday Ticket after the 2019 season. Do you think Comcast or Charter could get it? I would imagine if it would make cable great again, if you know what I mean. — Roger, Cleveland.
Roger, the National Football League could opt-out of its eight-year agreement with DIRECTV to carry the NFL Sunday Ticket following the 2019 season. There is no guarantee that it will opt-out, but the temptation of lucrative bids from new streaming services such as Amazon looms large. The NFL could wind up making even more money for the popular package of out-of-market Sunday games than it has from its $12 billion agreement with DIRECTV.
But what about Comcast or Charter, you ask? After all, the nation’s two largest cable operators have deep pockets, too, so why wouldn’t they bid for the Ticket?
That’s an interesting question because Comcast has flirted with the idea in past renewal negotiations. Company executives have lamented publicly that DIRECTV’s exclusive hold on the Ticket gives it an unfair advantage and therefore it might consider making its own bid someday.
However, I don’t see that happening this time, if the league decides to opt-out. Why? Two reasons.
1. Unlike DIRECTV (or a live streaming service), Comcast or Charter do not have a national footprint, meaning it does not serve the entire nation. (For example, Charter has the cable franchise rights in New York and Los Angeles while Comcast has them in Miami, Boston and Philadelphia.)
While Comcast has more than 20 million video subscribers, which is similar to DIRECTV, the inability to market the Ticket to non-Comcast areas would make the package less attractive to advertisers.
In addition, Comcast or Charter would not be able to use national marketing campaigns to lure potential subscribers to the Ticket because viewers in many markets would be unable to sign up.
2. The Ticket’s value has diminished somewhat over the years due largely to the proliferation of the Red Zone Channel. Many cable operators (and Dish) now carry the Red Zone Channel which offers live look-ins at games during pivotal moments. For some fans, particularly fantasy football players, this is almost as good as having the Ticket.
So while one of the nation’s largest cable ops might find the Ticket tempting, I don’t foresee them getting involved in what would be an exceedingly high-priced auction for the rights.
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— Phillip Swann