NFL Sunday Ticket is sold out, but how will that change?

What happens next for Sunday Ticket?

What happens next for Sunday Ticket?
Screenshot: NFL Sunday Ticket

Cable/Satellite isn’t dead, but it’s hanging by a thread, and the main reason many people still have cable is to be gone very soon. DirecTV has been the only place for NFL Sunday Ticket for several years now. While an average NFL fan may only want CBS or FOX for their home team, sports bars and avid NFL fans have had to deal with cable companies and pay decent fees in order to get access to every game every week (or they could be using illegal streaming services). That won’t be the case after the 2023 season, as DirecTV’s exclusive contract with the NFL is about to expire, and several of the big streaming companies are already bidding for the rights next year.

Apple, Netflix, Disney and Amazon are just a few of the names thrown around the conference table for this deal. The NFL hopes to receive at least $2 billion a year for the rights which would include not only the exclusivity of Sunday Ticket packages on their service (unless or not they are willing to resell the satellite rights to DirecTV), but also a stake in the league’s in-house media company and mobile rights.

Why is all this important? Sunday Ticket hasn’t exactly been the most attractive plan for potential buyers. Like I said earlier, many NFL fans simply preferred local games or the NFL RedZone to what Sunday Ticket had to offer, so why are so many big platforms suddenly dying to get their hands on it? Well, as the streaming business has become more and more lucrative, direct-to-consumer (DTC) content has become more and more financially viable, and sports is the most popular DTC content right now. Of course, DirecTV never did much with the rights, but with a few tweaks and tweaks, access to every NFL game would be a tremendous opportunity for any company to expand their brand. So what would these changes be and how would they affect our viewing experience as fans? I spoke with Dustin Yorkassociate professor of communication at Maryville Universityfor an overview.

York is a big believer in personalization. Whether it’s through the data farm or good old-fashioned surveys, personalization is key for any business to connect with their consumers. “How can my sports bet or my fantasy football league find its way into the way I watch the game?” York asked. York went on to praise other companies for the way they have integrated connectivity into their streaming services “Like pausing Amazon Prime to see what players are on the current scene, give me the opportunity to see information on the players currently on screen. Or maybe where to buy that awesome hoodie the coach is wearing on the sidelines. York not only expects these kinds of changes to be made to Sunday Ticket, but thinks that would be a huge missed opportunity for anyone who ends up with the right to pass on these types of suggestions.

That all sounds good, but in my personal experience, there have always been two things that have made Sunday Ticket an unattractive option for NFL football: price and the accessibility of illegal streaming services. I won’t name any sites I use, or anyone I know, because I’m a common man, but why would anyone be willing to pay for something they can get online for free ? Of course, the personalization of this content could be an attractive factor, but I think these advantages would only increase the price.

The Sunday Ticket currently costs around $400/year without DirecTVand just below $300/year with DirecTV. I don’t want to pay that much! I already have all the fantasy and betting content I need on my phone. I don’t need that nonsense on my TV screen at this price.

York agrees with that sentiment. “While the streaming service’s share price previously lived on a model of building subscribers at all costs, even if it meant losing revenue, recent concerns such as Netflix losing 200,000 subscribers have makes services think twice.” With so many companies offering streaming services these days, consumers are much less likely to stick with a specific site if its price isn’t right. So how would the new owner of Sunday Ticket try to find that happy medium between people who are willing to pay the subscription fee and those who aren’t? Ads, most likely. York explains, “Look for emerging ad- and ad-free offerings to offset potential cost increases — like options with HBO Max.”

Still, I can’t help but think that even with a free option, Sunday Ticket would still be behind RedZone in terms of usability. Not only does RedZone always focus on the most exciting parts of games (ie: touchdowns, field goals, and red zone drives), they also do it entirely ad-free. It’s only $5 a month. How are you supposed to compete with that? Sunday Ticket would have to offer plenty of benefits and a comparable price to be competitive, and I’m not sure it does.

I have no doubt that anyone who buys Sunday Ticket will find a way to compete with RedZone and other illegal streaming sites, but in its current state Sunday Ticket seems like a luxury that only the most extreme NFL fans would be willing to to buy. There’s a long way to go before it’s ready to take over TV sets across America.

Herman C. Harkins