TV Answer Man, I thought Apple had the Sunday Ticket deal sewed up but now I read that the commissioner says he won’t make a decision until the fall. What gives? Is Apple the winner or not? I’m confused to say the least. — Tony, Las Vegas. 

Tony, I can understand your confusion. Let me try to explain.

The NFL is negotiating with multiple streaming companies (Apple, Amazon, Disney’s ESPN+) that are interested in carrying the NFL Sunday Ticket when DIRECTV’s current exclusive agreement with the league expires after the 2022 season. (DIRECTV has said it’s no longer interested in an exclusive arrangement but would like to continue offering the Ticket in partnership with a streamer.)

Puck News‘ Matthew Belloni reported last April that one source told him that Apple has secured the deal but wants to keep that confidential for now. Belloni quoted another source as saying that Apple is in ‘the driver’s seat’ to take the Ticket.

“One source told me this weekend that the deal is actually done and is being kept quiet at Apple’s request,” Belloni wrote.

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Belloni’s story triggered numerous articles with headlines suggesting that Apple had won the Ticket sweepstakes. For instance:

Report: NFL Sunday Ticket & Apple Deal Is ‘Actually Done’ — Cord Cutter News
Apple May Have Already Inked Deal For NFL Sunday Ticket — MacRumors
Apple May Already Have NFL Sunday Ticket Deal — Front Office Sports

The onslaught of coverage of Belloni’s column swiftly created the perception that it was only a matter of time before Apple CEO Tim Cook and NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell would stand shoulder to shoulder and make the announcement.

However, nearly three months later, there has been no such joint announcement. But Goodell did make an announcement on his own: He told CNBC last week that a league decision on the Ticket will likely come this fall. (Note that the fall season extends into December so don’t think it will necessarily be September when Goodell spills the beans.)

“I think we’ll probably have some decision by the fall,” the commissioner told CNBC’s Julia Boorstin.

Goodell also said it’s likely that a streaming company will get the contract but that parrots everything he’s said on the subject for the last three years or more.

The commissioner’s reveal that a decision won’t come until ‘the fall’ would seem to counter the Belloni story from April that quoted a source saying that a decision had already been made. However, as often happens these days, there have been no corrections or clarifications from The Puck or other publications that would help the reader navigate this confusing mess. (For what it’s worth, your TV Answer Man cast doubt on The Puck assertion back in April.)

Now this doesn’t mean that Apple won’t win the Sunday Ticket. It also even doesn’t mean that Apple isn’t the front runner. But if we take Goodell’s remarks at face value, it seems to say that Apple doesn’t have the Ticket locked up.

Finally, let me add that I am not disputing Belloni’s original reporting here. He’s a veteran journalist with a strong track record. But it’s possible that that one source was jumping to conclusions, or simply wrong. It happens and it’s one of the dangers of relying on a single source. (Note that Belloni’s other source simply used the ‘in the driver’s seat’ characterization which is considerably different from saying the deal is done.)

And it’s also possible that Apple and Goodell are performing some magic show where they’ve conspired to keep everything secret until a certain date for reasons unknown. But the words, “probably have some decision by the fall.’ doesn’t sound like we have a decision and will let you know in the fall.

Update: Puck News yesterday reported that Apple is the “most likely” winner in the Ticket sweepstakes as opposed to the company who already has the deal. 

Tony, I hope that helps. Happy viewing and stay safe!

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— Phillip Swann