TV Answer Man, I read stories saying that Apple and Amazon are the front runners to get the next NFL Sunday Ticket contract. But you seem to think that ESPN may win. Why do you think that? — Paul, St. Petersburg, Florida.
Paul, several reliable news organizations, including CNBC, Sports Business Journal and the New York Post, have reported that Amazon, Apple and the Disney-owned ESPN+ are battling for the next NFL Sunday Ticket contract. (DIRECTV’s current deal with the league expires after the 2022 season.) They also report that Apple and Amazon are the likely front runners to win.
I don’t dispute their reporting; it undoubtedly reflects the current thinking around the league. However, let me offer a few words on why ESPN+ could still emerge victorious.
The consensus now is that Disney will not want to pay the NFL more than $2 billion a year for the Sunday Ticket because it has already spent a reported $2.7 billion a year for Monday Night Football. CNBC reports that Disney (along with Apple and Amazon) has made a bid for the Ticket, but Sports Business Journal writes that the offer trails the two streamers.
However, I think that Disney could still sweeten its offer for two reasons:
1. To further build the ESPN+ subscriber base.
Although it’s a sports service, ESPN+ is competing with everyone from Netflix to HBO Max to Apple for the attention and revenue of the streaming audience. There are only so many dollars to go around and ESPN+ can use the Ticket as a flagpole to lure and maintain subscribers.
2. To stop Apple or Amazon from becoming a monster competitor in the sports category.
In recent years, Disney/ESPN has been the dominant player in obtaining sports broadcasting rights, acquiring a significant number of games in all major sports and several minor ones as well. When you think of sports, you think ESPN first.
However, if Apple gets the Sunday Ticket, it will be able to add that to its MLB and MLS lineups. Suddenly, Apple will be the go-first service for some sports fans.
This will encourage Apple to reach into those deep pockets and start spending even more on sports, competing aggressively in the future with ESPN on everything and probably winning more than its fair share.
But if ESPN could take the Ticket now, it might force Apple to take a few steps back because its MLS/MLB lineups are still thin compared to other sports rights holders, especially ESPN. Without the Ticket, Apple could temper its sports ambitions.
Raising its ante for the Ticket would be the smart strategic move for ESPN. For now, and for years to come.
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell says a league decision is coming by this fall, which is somewhat nebulous; fall doesn’t end until December. But it says here that the final months of negotiations could provide a few surprising twists.
Happy viewing and stay safe!
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— Phillip Swann