TV Answer Man, I am confused. I read an article that said DIRECTV might just offer the NFL Sunday Ticket in rural areas and not everywhere else like suburbs and cities. Is that possible? How would that work? How would they stop other people from getting it? — Bruce, Huntington, Maryland. 

Bruce, I think the article you are referring to came from Pro Football Talk’s Mike Florio. Before I explain what he is reporting, a little background on DIRECTV and the NFL Sunday Ticket.

DIRECTV has offered the package of out-of-market Sunday afternoon games as an exclusive since the Ticket launched in 1994. But the current agreement expires after the 2022 season and NFL executives have acknowledged that they are negotiating with several companies for the next contract.

Rob Thun, DIRECTV’S chief content officer, tells CNET that the increased cost of continuing the Ticket as an exclusive “doesn’t make any sense for us.” The satcaster has lost roughly six million customers in the last seven years and subscriber defections are likely to continue as more consumers opt for cheaper streaming alternatives.

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Thun says he expects, or at least hopes, the next pact to be split between DIRECTV and a streaming company. Disney said earlier this month that it’s bidding on the next Sunday Ticket contract for its ESPN+ streaming service while news reports have said Amazon, Apple, and Comcast (for Peacock) could be among the bidders as well.

And this is where Pro Football Talk comes in.

Florio wrote last Sunday that a streaming company is likely to win the next Ticket contract and it could sell the satellite rights to DIRECTV or Dish. The PFT writer suggested the satellite company could restrict the sale of the Ticket in areas where streaming is not easily accessible.

“It now appears (per a source with knowledge of the dynamics) that the league will sell the whole package to a tech company, which then may break off satellite rights to be sold only to consumers (typically, very rural) who lack access to the kind of Internet service needed for reliable streaming. That could be DIRECTV, it could be Dish Network, it could be both, and it could be neither,” Florio wrote.

Before we get too excited here, the article notes that the negotiations are still “very fluid,” which means much could change before a final decision is made. (And we don’t know when the league will ultimately decide.)

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But Florio’s suggestion that a satellite TV service, most likely DIRECTV, would only sell the Ticket in rural areas is realistic. DIRECTV already restricts the sale of a streaming version of the Ticket to certain areas and homes, mostly those deemed unable to install a satellite dish. So, starting in 2023, it would be relatively easy for DIRECTV to sell the Ticket only in zip codes where high-speed Internet access is limited. This would allow the streaming company to sell the Ticket everywhere else.

Of course, this arrangement might upset long-time Sunday Ticket subscribers who get DIRECTV in cities and suburbs. But they could still subscribe to the Ticket via a streaming service, such as ESPN+.

We don’t know how this will play out, but the next Sunday Ticket contract is likely to be more complicated than previous ones with multiple companies involved and perhaps geographical restrictions. The TV Answer Man will continue to monitor this situation and report back here if anything significant changes.

Until then, happy viewing and stay safe!

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— Phillip Swann