Report: YouTube is in the running for NFL Sunday Ticket

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A report this weekend from The New York Times says that YouTube is the latest bidder for the NFL’s flagship content package, NFL Sunday Ticket. There’s still no winner in the bidding process, but Google’s video division is jumping into the fray to do battle with Apple, who, the Times says, is “considered the front-runner” in the deal. The winning bid is expected to run upward of $2.5 billion per season.

NFL Sunday Ticket offers every out-of-market, regular-season Sunday afternoon game as a giant, ~$300-a-year cable package. Nationally televised games and your local games aren’t included in the package, but it’s everything else you normally wouldn’t be able to watch—around 13 extra games per week. In the US, the service has been (mostly) exclusive to satellite TV provider DirecTV for years, with the last deal being signed in 2014 for $1.5 billion per year. DirecTV’s current deal expires at the end of this upcoming season, and due to plummeting TV subscribers, the beleaguered DirecTV no longer has the cash to re-up with the NFL. That means Sunday Ticket is up for grabs as the next major chess piece in The Streaming Wars.

Amazon was the first tech giant to jump into the NFL world by acquiring another major NFL package, Thursday Night Football, for $1 billion per year. Amazon has previously dipped its toes into the NFL waters by simulcasting Fox Thursday night games, but this year, Amazon’s Prime Video exclusivity means Amazon needs to do its own production work. So far, it seems to be gearing up for a top-class production: The company poached legendary play-by-play announcer Al Michaels from NBC and hired NBC’s 24-time Emmy-winning executive producer, Fred Gaudelli (who is executive-producing both NBC’s and Amazon’s NFL packages now). Amazon has also hired a bevy of former NFL players to host the pregame, halftime, and postgame shows: Hall of Fame tight end Tony Gonzalez, future Hall of Fame cornerback Richard Sherman, and recently retired quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick. It sounds like Amazon is sparing no expense.

While Amazon’s Thursday Night Football production has involved spinning up an entire football operation from scratch—putting it in the same league as Fox, CBS, NBC, and ESPN—Sunday Ticket requires a lot less production work. The winning company would only have to simulcast existing local TV productions from across the US.

The report lists Apple, Amazon, ESPN+ (Disney), and YouTube (Google) as the major players in the deal. The Times says “a final deal has been delayed by negotiations over a concurrent sale of NFL media assets, including the NFL Network, RedZone channel, and NFL+.” The League has a lot of smaller packages to divvy up in the streaming era.

Brian Rolapp, the NFL’s chief media and business officer, told The New York Times: “A number of companies are in strong position to potentially land Sunday Ticket, but we still have a ways to go in this process.”

The report says Apple has made winning the package “a priority,” but it’s not clear if Google is in it to win it or if it just wants to drive up the price. We frequently see Google participate in these Big Tech auctions, but it rarely closes a deal. The company made a lot of noise about participating in the FCC’s 700 mHz Block C auction in 2008 but mostly bluffed its way through the auction so the price would hit an “open access” threshold. Google didn’t win the $4.5 billion auction for Nortel’s patents in 2011, and it couldn’t close the deal during its WhatsApp bidding war with Facebook in 2013.

On the other hand, YouTube is facing a huge amount of competition from upstart video platform TikTok. While TikTok is popular with younger generations, an NFL package could score it a ton of revenue from an older demographic.

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