TV Answer Man, you used to be the TV Predictions man so what is your prediction on whether DIRECTV will keep the Sunday Ticket after its contract runs out. Is the chances good or bad in your opinion? — Jack, Cincinnati. 

Jack, DIRECTV’s current contract with the NFL calls for the satcaster to keep the Sunday Ticket through the 2022 season. The league is now negotiating with several companies for the next contract and there has been widespread speculation that Amazon or ESPN will become the next Sunday Ticket rightsholder.

Many analysts have dismissed DIRECTV as even being a potential bidder for the next Sunday Ticket contract, noting that AT&T is selling a 30 percent stake in the satellite TV service to the private equity firm, TPG. (The deal is expected to close in the second half of the year.)

They argue that TPG and AT&T will have no interest in retaining the football package because DIRECTV’s subscriber numbers are rapidly declining. In addition, they say, the two companies will likely try to sell DIRECTV to Dish in a year or two so why take on an expensive sports contract like the Ticket.

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However, those two reasons are the very ones why I think the new DIRECTV will bid on the next Sunday Ticket contract. Without the Ticket, DIRECTV’s subscriber numbers would fall even faster, making it less valuable to a prospective buyer, such as Dish. While it’s true that DIRECTV would still have the Ticket in 2021 and 2022, Dish would know that the bottom would fall out in 2023 when it’s gone. Some subscribers might also cancel early, knowing that the football package wouldn’t be available in a few years.

There’s another reason why DIRECTV would be interested in bidding. While the competition for the Ticket’s streaming rights will be fierce with Amazon, ESPN+ and Comcast’s Peacock all in play, I don’t see anyone in the traditional pay TV category besides DIRECTV being interested, with the possible exception of Comcast. (I believe the NFL will give a share of the next Sunday Ticket contract to a streaming company, and a share to a cable/satellite company. DIRECTV currently has the Ticket as an exclusive.)

DIRECTV is the only company that can reliably provide the Sunday Ticket to a national audience, including bars and restaurants. Yes, streaming is national, but it’s dependent on the Internet which makes it technically unsound at times. DIRECTV has proven over two decades that it can deliver a reliable, strong signal for the Sunday Ticket from coast to coast. That’s a big plus when you’re charging upwards of $400 a season, and lots more if you’re a bar or restaurant owner.

Consequently, the cost of acquiring the rights in the pay TV category may not be as much as you think.

For these reasons, I predict that DIRECTV will keep the Sunday Ticket after 2022, sharing it with a streaming company, most likely ESPN+. But I also wouldn’t rule out AT&T TV as the streaming winner, which would allow the new DIRECTV company (which will consist of DIRECTV, AT&T TV and U-verse) to keep its exclusive.

Jack, hope that helps. Happy viewing, and stay safe!

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— Phillip Swann