How DirecTV can survive the loss of the NFL’s Sunday ticket
Since 1994, the NFL Sunday Ticket package has been exclusive to DirecTV, making it available only in the homes of DirecTV TV subscribers and at bars, restaurants and other establishments subscribing to the service.
From next year that will likely change, with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell saying last year that the league viewed Sunday Ticket as a “streaming product.” Bidding for the package, which will be available from the 2023 season, has attracted everyone from Apple and Amazon to Disney and Comcast. And although reports have indicated that Apple is close to win the auctionthis has not been confirmed, nor is it clear when such an announcement might take place.
DirecTV, which was spun off by former owner AT&T into its own company last year, bled its subscribers, and the loss of Sunday Ticket would likely make it bleed even more. How bad would the bleeding be, though?
Axios, cite data of SNL Kagan, reported that 23% of DirecTV subscribers paid for Sunday Ticket during the 2021 NFL season. SNL Kagan polled 9,940 people, including just over 2,000 DirecTV subscribers. Of these, 54% said they did not subscribe to Sunday Ticket, 23% said they had subscribed, and 16% said they had obtained Sunday Ticket as a “benefit for new subscribers”. Another 7% said they “don’t know”.
TV Answer Man column writer Philip Swann expressed some skepticism about SNL Kagan’s numbers.
“Beware of all investigations, especially this one”, Swann said on Twitter this week. “The survey figures are far too high. The ticket subtitles have historically been within 10-15% of the base range.
Swann wrote in a later blog post, Sunday Ticket was never profitable. He even cited an SEC filing in which AT&T, then owner of DirecTV, said so. “It might surprise some people, but DIRECTV’s last eight-year contract with the NFL called for it to pay $1.5 billion a year for the rights to The Ticket. The base ticket price starts at $293 per season with the Max plan at $395. For DIRECTV to make a profit, it would need more than 20% of its subscribers to subscribe. And over the years, the number has actually been around 10-15%, according to various sources I’ve spoken to in my 28 years covering the company,” Swann wrote.
Research by Leichtman, DirecTV had about 14.6 million subscribers at the end of 2021, after losing 1.9 million during the year. However, since DirecTV is no longer a public company and does not publish financial results, this figure is an estimate. Leichtman’s numbers list “DirecTV” as the main satellite service, along with DirecTV Stream and U-Verse; it’s unclear if the SNL Kagan study does as well.
Stephen Silver, technology editor for The National Interest, is a journalist, essayist and film critic, who also contributes to The Philadelphia Inquirer, Philly Voice, Philadelphia Weekly, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Living Life Fearless, Backstage magazine, Broad Street Review and connect today. Co-founder of the Philadelphia Film Critics Circle, Stephen lives in suburban Philadelphia with his wife and two sons. Follow him on Twitter at @StephenSilver.