TV Answer Man, could Apple just include the NFL Sunday Ticket as part of its regular Apple TV+ subscription for $6.99. I read that was the plan but the NFL said no. Is that true and why would the NFL care? The more people, the better, right? — Tony, Las Vegas. 

Tony, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said this week that negotiations for the next NFL Sunday Ticket contract has reached a “very critical point,” which would suggest the league is getting closer to picking a winner. (DIRECTV has acknowledged that it does not plan to bid to renew its exclusive rights to the package of out-of-market Sunday afternoon games, although it would like to continue serving bars and restaurants with the Ticket if it can strike a deal with whatever streaming company takes over starting with the 2023 season.)

But multiple news reports, including this one from the New York Post’s Andrew Marchand, have said talks between Apple, the presumed frontrunner, and the league have stalled. The final price tag, which could exceed $2 billion a year, is one sticking point but Marchand says Apple also wanted (or wants) to include the Sunday Ticket as part of its regular Apple TV+ subscription which costs $6.99 a month.

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The league is balking at that demand, which seems odd to many casual observers of the sports media scene. Afterall, if Apple wants to use the Ticket to generate more Apple TV+ subs rather than more revenue, why shouldn’t they be allowed to? The company is willing (or may be willing?) to pay the price to acquire the Ticket so it seems reasonable it could do whatever it wants with it. Right?


John Ourand of Sports Business Journal reported last February that the DIRECTV’s contract with the league calls for the package to be sold at a premium price. (DIRECTV’s base plan for the Ticket is $293 for the entire season, not $6.99 a month.)

The reason?

CBS and Fox, which spent billions on those Sunday afternoon games on the package, doesn’t want a large part of their audience watching them on Apple TV+. They want fans to tune in to their local network affiliates. This ensures a better rating and more advertising dollars.

Now you could argue that the Sunday Ticket doesn’t include local broadcasts of NFL games so viewers would still watch those on the network affiliates. True, but if the Sunday Ticket was available at such a cheap price on Apple TV+, many fans would forgo the local broadcasts and just watch the games that are available via the Ticket. That would in turn diminish the affiliate ratings.

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However, if the Ticket’s price remains relatively high, the number of subscribers will stay similar to what it is now on DIRECTV, which the networks are comfortable with. (Over the years, roughly 10-15 percent of DIRECTV customers have subscribed to the Ticket.)

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Bottom line: The NFL needs to protect its longtime broadcasting partners while simultaneously making the Ticket attractive to a new streaming partner. It remains to be seen if the NFL can thread that needle for Apple, or if a different company such as Amazon, Google or Disney, will step in.

Update: New report says Apple has dropped out of the negotiations.

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

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— Phillip Swann