The first Sunday of the 20221 National Football League season is today and the prospect of watching live football on TV after six more months of pandemic life has many excited fans searching for the best viewing options.

As has been the case since 1994 when it launched, the NFL Sunday Ticket remains the only way to watch all out-of-market Sunday afternoon games. However, there has been considerable confusion regarding the Ticket over the last few years due to some rule changes, and speculation that DIRECTV will lose its exclusive rights to offer it.

So the TV Answer Man has compiled this up-to-the-minute guide to everything you need to know to subscribe to the NFL Sunday Ticket.

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Does Any Pay TV Provider Besides DIRECTV Offer the Sunday Ticket?
No, since the Ticket’s first year in 1994, DIRECTV has had the exclusive rights from the National Football League to sell the Sunday Ticket. Most recently, the satcaster paid $12 billion in 2014 to carry the package exclusively for eight years.

So I Can’t Get the Ticket From My Cable TV Provider?
That’s right. Your cable TV service might carry the Red Zone Channel, but not the Ticket. (The Red Zone Channel offers live look-ins at games when one team crosses its opponent’s 20-yard-line. You can also subscribe directly to the Red Zone channel at the NFL streaming app, but it’s only available on smart phones.)

Does DIRECTV Stream Have the Ticket?
No. Only DIRECTV’s satellite service has the Ticket, not Stream, its online service formerly known as AT&T TV. To find out why, click here.

What Is The Cost of the Sunday Ticket?
The Ticket’s base plan is $293.94 and that includes all out-of-market Sunday afternoon games and a streaming option. The Max plan, which costs $395.94, also includes the Red Zone Channel, a fantasy stats channel, and the streaming option.

Doesn’t DIRECTV Offer the Ticket For Free?
DIRECTV earlier this year offered the Ticket for free in e-mails to select existing subscribers. It’s unclear how many existing subscribers got the benefit nor why they did but others didn’t. But if you didn’t get the freebie e-mail, you have to pay.

In addition, DIRECTV includes the Ticket for free to new customers who order the satcaster’s Choice (or above) plan, which starts at $69.99 a month. However, note that you must sign a two-year agreement to subscribe, and year two programming package prices nearly double. (You also have to buy the Ticket in year two if you want to keep watching the out-of-market games.)

Isn’t There a Way to Get the Ticket Without DIRECTV?
Yes. DIRECTV’s streaming edition of the Sunday Ticket is available to university students, people who were enrolled in a college within the last 18 months, people who can prove they can’t get DIRECTV at their residences, and people who “live in select areas within various metropolitan cities.”

That last qualifier — people who live in select areas within various metropolitan cities — has been the topic of considerable discussion in the last year or so. An AT&T spokesman told the TV Answer Man last year that the “various metropolitan cities” included 29 different markets where people were eligible for the streaming Sunday Ticket (cost is the same as the satellite version) even if they can get DIRECTV at their residences. That would mean that you could get the Ticket without a DIRECTV subscription, and without being a university student or live in a residence where you can’t get DIRECTV.

However, the AT&T spokesman would not elaborate on exactly who in those 29 markets were eligible. After we reported the AT&T statement, several readers sent us e-mails saying they were able to subscribe while many others said they were deemed ineligible.

With DIRECTV now under new management after AT&T sold a 30 percent stake in the satcaster to private equity firm, TPG, the TV Answer Man recently tried again to get an explanation. A DIRECTV spokesman said people in the 29 markets were more likely to be eligible because they live in areas where satellite reception is uncertain due to a higher number of tall buildings and other possible obstructions. This might be why more people who lived within the city limits were more likely to report they were ruled eligible.

The bottom line is that it’s still uncertain whether you would be eligible in the 29 markets. The only sure way to determine that is to try the Sunday Ticket eligibility checker here.  You can see the 29 markets here.)

If I’m Eligible, Which Streaming Devices Can I Use?
The Sunday Ticket app is available on numerous streaming devices including Roku and Fire TV. You can see a complete list here. 

Is the Sunday Ticket Stream Any Good?
It’s streaming, folks. The Internet can be a cruel mistress and the Sunday Ticket has succumbed to her fickleness more than once. However, user reports suggests that picture reliability has improved somewhat in the last few years.

If I Have DIRECTV, Will There Be a Free Preview Today?
Yes. There is a free preview today, and a seven-day free trial for the streaming edition of the Sunday Ticket.

Why Doesn’t DIRECTV Offer a Single Team Option?
DIRECTV, pays $1.5 billion a year to the league for the exclusive rights to the Sunday Ticket. To make that investment worthwhile, the telco needs a lot of revenue coming back in Ticket subscriptions.

If DIRECTV Agreed to offer a single team package, more people who now don’t subscribe would undoubtedly sign up. But the problem is that many people who now pay $300 to $400 for the entire package would undoubtedly downgrade to a sub-$200 single team option, which would mean less revenue overall for DIRECTV.

Unlike the MLB and NBA, the NFL currently has only one client for its package of out-of-market games. And it’s DIRECTV which pays a small fortune for the honor. Consequently, under this scenario, a single team feature simply doesn’t work.

How Long Will DIRECTV Have the Sunday Ticket?
The satcaster’s contract with the league is set to expire after the 2022 season. Multiple news reports, including this recent one from CNBC, have said Amazon, Apple and ESPN are among the companies  interested in the next contract. The CNBC report says DIRECTV has not decided yet whether to try to renew.

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— Phillip Swann