TV Answer Man, I’ve been reading that Apple will get the NFL Sunday Ticket. As a DIRECTV subscriber, how would that work? I have trouble getting the Internet at our house and I don’t think I could get the Sunday Ticket with Apple. How can they expect everyone to subscribe if Apple has it? — Mike, Port Republic, Maryland. 

Mike, there have been multiple news reports suggesting that the NFL will award the next Sunday Ticket contract to a streaming company which could become the exclusive provider of the out-of-market package of Sunday afternoon games. The most recent report from The Puck says Apple has the deal wrapped up although John Ourand of Sports Business Journal writes that both Apple and Amazon are still in contention.

It’s unclear if DIRECTV is still vying for a slice of the Ticket when its contract expires after the 2022 season. The satcaster has acknowledged publicly that it no longer wants the contract exclusively, but it would like to continue offering it to the satellite audience and/or the bar and restaurant business.

But what if DIRECTV loses and the Ticket becomes a streaming exclusive after this season? If that happens, there will be more losers than just DIRECTV.

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Here are the big losers if DIRECTV is shut out of the next Sunday Ticket agreement:

The satcaster has already lost six to seven million subscribers in the last six or seven years. The loss of the Ticket, which analysts estimate has between two and three million subscribers, could accelerate the company’s decline at a most inopportune time: when it might be discussing a merger with Dish.

DIRECTV Subscribers 
We don’t know exactly how many, but there are numerous DIRECTV subscribers who signed up for a two-year contract with DIRECTV to get the Ticket for free in year one. (DIRECTV provides the Ticket for free in year one to new customers.) If the satcaster loses the Ticket in 2023, those fans will either have to cancel and pay a early termination fee ($20 a month for every month left in the agreement), or go through year two without the reason they signed up in the first place. Of course, they could stay with DIRECTV in year two and get the Ticket via streaming. But what if…

Rural Residents
…What if they don’t have access to a reliable Internet service? The FCC has estimated that around 20 million Americans don’t have access to high-speed Internet, although some say it’s considerably higher. In addition, many Americans opt not to get an expensive Internet plan to save money. But if they want to stream the Ticket, they will need to. The all-streaming Ticket would certainly leave potential customers on the sidelines.

Bars & Restaurants
DIRECTV has provided the Sunday Ticket to bars and restaurants since the 1990s and the business has become a lucrative one. However, if DIRECTV loses the concession in 2023, those establishments will be left high and dry, so to speak, with dishes on the roof and a sudden need to install a powerful Internet network. Depending upon where the place is, and what kind of place it is, that may not be as easy as it sounds, not to mention expensive.

And even if they are able to install a reliable Internet network, the streaming of live sports remains a sketchy delivery method. Streamers often delay their sports feeds by 30-60 seconds to reduce possible buffering. How will it play in a bar when half the crowd knows a touchdown will happen before the other half because they saw it posted on social media? And what happens when a bunch of drunken fans can’t watch their faves in the fourth quarter because the streamer’s server crashed?

As you can see, there are some strong reasons for the NFL to include DIRECTV in the next Sunday Ticket contract. But that doesn’t mean it will happen. Money still rules, and if a streaming company says it will pay big bucks for an exclusive, it will get that exclusive.

Mike, hope that makes sense. Happy viewing and stay safe!

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— Phillip Swann