TV Answer Man, do you think there’s any chance that Netflix could get the NFL Sunday Ticket? That would make them perfect in my mind. Great shows and a must-have sports package! What do you think? — DeShawn, Brooklyn.
DeShawn, as you probably know, DIRECTV’s exclusive contract to carry the out-of-market NFL Sunday Ticket package expires after the 2022 season and NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has said repeatedly that a streaming company is likely to take over starting with the 2023 season. (Goodell said a decision is expected in the fall, which ends December 20. DIRECTV has said it’s interested in continuing to offer the Ticket to bars and restaurants and perhaps select residential subscribers if a deal could be worked out with the new rights holder.)
Despite being the world’s largest streaming service, most analysts have said Netflix is not a likely candidate to bid on the next Sunday Ticket contract. The company has long said it’s not interested in live sports or any live programming for that matter.
“We have so much we want to do in our area, so we’re not trying to copy others, whether that’s linear cable, there’s lots of things we don’t do. We don’t do (live) news, we don’t do (live) sports. But what we do do, we try to do really well,” Netflix co-CEO Reed Hastings said in 2018.
However, there have been five developments in the past several weeks that could suggest Netflix will be a player in the Sunday Ticket sweepstakes:
1. Netflix goes live.
Netflix announced last week that it will stream a live Chris Rock stand-up comedy special sometime in the spring of 2023. It would appear that Netflix has shed its one-time visceral opposition to live events in the hopes they could make the service more competitive against well-heeled rivals such as Disney Plus, HBO Max and Amazon’s Prime Video.
2. Netflix pursues live sports.
The Wall Street Journal reported a few days before the Chris Rock announcement that Netflix has also finally decided to embrace live sports and is already pursuing deals with some minor sports leagues and tennis tours. There’s no indication from the article that Netflix has interest in the Sunday Ticket, but the report certainly raised a few eyebrows in the sports industry.
3. News reports say Apple’s talks with the NFL have stalled.
A New York Times report in late September suggested that Apple is still the current front-runner to get the next Ticket contract. (Amazon, Google and Disney have reportedly also made bids.) But the Times said talks between the league and the notoriously prickly Apple have “dragged” over the final price, among other issues. The NFL wants $2.5 billion a year for the Ticket, which would be a $1 billion increase over DIRECTV’s annual payment. (Alex Sherman of CNBC has also reported a snag in the Apple negotiations.)
4. The Times article says the league is encouraging other companies to bid.
The league has become so frustrated with the pace of the Apple negotiations that it has tried to persuade other companies to make bids, the article states.
“The NFL has signaled its frustration with Apple by reaching out to representatives at other media companies to encourage them to put forward a bid, according to two people familiar with the outreach,” the Times writes.
By now, you are probably starting to connect the dots. Netflix suddenly goes live and starts bidding on live sports at the same time the NFL is encouraging new streaming companies to bid on the Sunday Ticket because the Apple talks have stalled. But there is one more reason why Netflix could be interested.
5. Netflix’s domestic subscriber growth has slowed.
Netflix, which once dominated the streaming market in the U.S. and Canada, added just 100,000 domestic subscribers in the third quarter. By comparison, FuboTV, the much smaller live streaming service, added more than 200,000 net subs domestically in the same time period while the corporate team of HBO, HBO Max and Discovery+ added around 500,000. This could be excused as a temporary glitch, but Netflix has struggled domestically for a year or so as it pursues (successfully) subs worldwide.
What could be a better way to revive the U.S./Canada market than offering the Sunday Ticket as a streaming exclusive?
Okay, now that we’ve provided five reasons why Netflix could be in the Sunday Ticket hunt, there’s one reason, perhaps bigger than any of the five, that it isn’t.
Even to Netflix, the concept of shelling out more than $2 billion a year for the Ticket has to be daunting, particularly in a down economy, and particularly when Netflix’s live sports experience is currently at zero.
But Netflix has a history of ‘go big or go home’ so I wouldn’t count them out at this point. Particularly if the league truly believes that Apple might walk away from the table.
DeShawn, hope that makes sense. Happy viewing and stay safe!
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— Phillip Swann