Q. Every story I read about the NFL Sunday Ticket says DIRECTV won’t be able to keep it when its current agreement with the NFL ends. How do we know that? Is it possible that AT&T and DIRECTV will keep the Sunday Ticket? — Bob, Deale, Maryland.
Bob, that’s a great question. DIRECTV’s exclusive agreement to carry the NFL Sunday Ticket is expected to expire following the 2022 season. The league reportedly is now negotiating new TV contracts for several properties including Thursday Night Football and Monday Night Football as well as the Ticket.
So, is there any chance that AT&T, which owns DIRECTV, will renew the deal?
Most publications and analysts who cover the NFL, and television, say no way. They point to AT&T trying to sell DIRECTV, which CNBC says could happen in the next week. AT&T executives have said repeatedly that satellite TV’s future is uncertain at best so why would they invest billions in a new Sunday Ticket deal, particularly if they are days away from selling a significant minority stake in DIRECTV to an equity firm.
That’s a good point, but I wouldn’t rule AT&T and DIRECTV out. While AT&T wants to reduce its financial commitment, and time commitment, in DIRECTV, that doesn’t mean it wants to make the satellite service less valuable. And losing the Sunday Ticket after the 2022 season would make DIRECTV less valuable at what could be a particularly inopportune time.
TPG, the equity firm that CNBC says is close to buying a minority stake in DIRECTV, will eventually want to turn a profit on its investment. And the easiest way to do that is to turn around DIRECTV’s fortunes in the next few years and then sell it to Dish.
Federal regulators may frown at a DIRECTV-Dish merger now because it would hurt rural residents who rely on satellite TV due to a lack of high-speed Internet access. But they would likely be more receptive in late 2022/early 2023 when 5G technology is more readily available in those communities, making streaming a viable option in more rural markets.
If DIRECTV still had the Sunday Ticket after 2022, Dish would certainly be more inclined to pay a premium price to merge with its longtime satellite rival. And that would give TPG the short-term score it’s hoping for.
I doubt that AT&T, and TPG, would be willing to pay enough to win another exclusive deal. But they might bid to keep the Ticket in the pay TV category while another company, such as Amazon or Google, gets the streaming rights.
If I was betting, I wouldn’t put DIRECTV atop the leader board to keep the Sunday Ticket, but I think too many people are too quickly dismissing their interest.
Bob, hope that makes sense. Happy viewing, and stay safe!
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— Phillip Swann