After a few years of lurching about, the NFL today finally awarded the next Sunday Ticket rights to Google which will include the package of out-of-market Sunday afternoon games on both YouTube TV and its YouTube Channels subscription service, starting with the 2023 season.
But there are far more winners — and losers — than Google today. And here they are:
Winner: YouTube TV
The live streaming service already has approximately five million subscribers (including free trials), which is slightly more than its top rival, Hulu Live. With the Sunday Ticket as a lure, YouTube TV has a chance of leaving Hulu and all other live streamers in its dust.
Loser: Hulu Live
Hulu Live, which is owned by Disney, will have trouble now keeping up with YouTube TV, particularly with young sports fans who seem most interested in live streaming. It will be interesting to see if Disney stays committed to Hulu Live if the streamer starts to fall behind in the back half of 2023.
You also have to wonder how today’s decision will affect DIRECTV Stream, Sling TV and FuboTV. My guess is that consolidation in the category is now more likely than ever.
The tech giant was favored to win the Ticket sweepstakes for months with one publication reporting last April that it actually secured the deal and was just waiting to announce it. But Apple apparently found the Ticket’s carriage restrictions too limiting and pulled out. You have to wonder if this will cause Apple to cool its live sports ambitions after making deals with MLB and MLS. The Sunday Ticket would have been the crown jewel in its lineup, but now Apple has two sports with uncertain viewership.
Winner: The NFL
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell often sounded like the boy who cried wolf with his multiple declarations of when the Ticket deal would be announced. But he finally got his big white whale (to shift literary metaphors) with CNBC and other news sources saying Google agreed to pay more than $2 billion a year for the Ticket’s residential rights. (DIRECTV has paid $1.5 billion a year.)
There was no way for DIRECTV to be anything but a loser here once the company decided not to try to renew its exclusive agreement to carry the Ticket. But the actual announcement today makes it seem a bit more real. DIRECTV has lost 12 million subscribers since AT&T purchased it in 2015 and it’s hard to see a scenario now where the mass exodus stops.
The victory is also one for the entire streaming industry which can now boast carrying the most popular sports package in the nation after satcaster DIRECTV had it exclusively for 28 years. This could go down as a final tipping point in the move from traditional cable/satellite TV to Internet-based video.
Loser: Cheap Streaming
Apple reportedly wanted to include the Sunday Ticket with its $6.99 a month Apple TV+ subscription but the NFL balked due to restrictions in its contracts with Fox and CBS. Now YouTube TV will likely have to charge something similar to DIRECTV’s starting price of $293 for the entire season of the Sunday Ticket. Apple’s bid was the last gasp for those who told us that streaming would provide a cheaper alternative to cable and satellite.
Winner: Bars & Restaurants
The NFL decided to retain the commercial rights to the Ticket, which it hopes will generate as much as $300 million a year from the winning bidder. DIRECTV, which has provided the Ticket to bars and restaurants for years, is the logical pick to take the commercial rights home. This is good news for bars and restaurants which now shouldn’t have to search for creative (and likely unsatisfactory) ways to stream the Ticket’s games to their patrons.
Live streaming can often be delayed by as much as a minute behind the real action. This will drive the gamblers crazy, particularly those who want to play prop bets during the game.
Loser: Rural Sunday Ticket Subscribers
While the availability of the Ticket on YouTube TV will allow more people to subscribe (no dish required), it will also mean that many rural DIRECTV subscribers who have limited Internet access will be out of luck. Google would be wise to strike a short-term deal with DIRECTV to continue servicing this audience, but there’s no indication that will happen.
Winner: The Wall Street Journal
The Wall Street Journal’s Joe Flint and Miles Kruppa reported Tuesday night that the NFL was in “advanced talks” to give Google the Sunday Ticket contract. The article said an announcement was imminent. Top sports media journalists were in hot pursuit of this story for months, but WSJ brought it home.
Loser: The Puck
The gossipy industry newsletter wrote last April that a source said Apple had the Ticket deal and was just waiting to announce it.
Nope. And not even close.
The Puck made a nice comeback earlier this month when its Dylan Byers reported that Apple had pulled out of the Ticket talks. That turned out to be correct and The Puck was the first to say it.
Loser: Craig Carton
Craig Carton, a sports radio host at WFAN in New York, said in March 2021 that sources told him that ESPN+, the streaming service, will replace DIRECTV as the provider of the Sunday Ticket contract when it expires.
Nope. And not even close.
Winner: The Dish-DIRECTV Merger Possibility
It has seemed self-evident for some time that DIRECTV needs Dish and Dish needs DIRECTV. But now more than ever.
Winner: Internet Providers
With the big win for streaming, decent Internet service will become more important than ever as well. Which means Internet providers will be able to charge more.
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— Phillip Swann