TV Answer Man, a bunch of TV companies offer MLB Extra Innings and NBA League Pass and other sports packages. Why does the NFL Sunday Ticket have to be an exclusive deal? Why can’t any provider that wants to offer it to their customers be able to do so like the other plans? — Larry, Bellevue, Nebraska. 

Larry, you’re right. DIRECTV, Dish, Verizon, Comcast and Charter’s Spectrum TV all carry MLB Extra Innings and multiple providers carry the NBA League Pass as well. However, the NFL Sunday Ticket has been a DIRECTV exclusive since 1994 and news reports suggest that a streaming service, such as Apple or Amazon, could also get an exclusive deal when DIRECTV’s contract expires after the 2022 season.

What makes the Ticket different?

The NFL.

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There is nothing more powerful and popular in professional sports, particularly with the TV audience. NFL games generate the biggest ratings and, consequently, the biggest revenue in TV contracts. So the league can basically dictate its terms when doling out those agreements.

To date, the NFL has concluded an exclusive arrangement with one provider can generate the most money, although this has prevented non-DIRECTV customers from subscribing over the years.

And it could prevent some rural residents from subscribing if a streaming company gets an exclusive in the next deal. (The FCC estimates that 20 million Americans, mostly rural residents, have little or no access to high-speed Internet.) But the league may not care if the streamer’s bid is high enough.

For a streaming company, an exclusive arrangement can help it build greater brand awareness because it will have a coveted product that no one else does. When people come to the streamer’s site or app to watch the Ticket, they will also see its other shows and/or merchandise. This could be an invaluable marketing aid for a company like Apple or Amazon which features both programming and products.

It’s still possible that the NFL will split the Ticket in the next agreement, perhaps allowing DIRECTV to share it with a streaming company. The league could calculate that arrangement would generate the most revenue. But it’s highly unlikely that it will allow more than two providers to offer it as MLB does with Extra Innings and the NBA does with League Pass.

We still don’t know when the next agreement will be announced, but the TV Answer Man will continue to monitor this situation and report back here if anything significant changes.

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

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— Phillip Swann