The future of the NFL Sunday ticket hinges on price, creativity and reliability
If DirecTV’s Sunday Ticket were a professional football team, you could say it’s a losing start to this season.
The NFL enters Week 5 after playing less than a month of regular season football. In the first four weeks of action, at least three saw fans vent their frustrations over DirecTV’s Sunday Ticket package. Of error pages at inconsistent streaming at quality issuesSunday Ticket has seen its fair share of online reviews in what may be its final season as a DirecTV exclusive.
It is widely believed that after the 2022 season, DirecTV will cede control of Sunday Ticket, which will face intense competition from streaming providers. Apple is widely seen as the future home, but Amazon, Disney and Google are also believed to be vying for rights.
As the streaming giants face off, it’s likely they’ll have to get creative with their NFL presentation. In an NFL Sunday Ticket survey of 2,562 fans conducted by The Broadcastwhich covers streaming services, increased accessibility isn’t the only thing viewers want to see from a new provider.
According to the survey, only 26% of fans are willing to pay up to Sunday Ticket’s current base price of $300. If this price was between $150 and $200, the survey indicates that it could lead to an increase in subscribers. It also indicates that 50% of fans are willing to pay $150, while 43% are willing to pay $200.
“Whether [the Sunday Ticket provider] is able to lower the price to something lower, something more in line with other off-market packages, like $150 to $200 you may see somewhere up to 2x more people who might sign up for this service,” Jason Gurwin, co-founder of The Streamable, said in an interview.
The price any company will pay for the rights to Sunday Ticket is also a matter of discussion. Amazon’s 11-year streaming deal for the NFL’s “Thursday Night Football” package will cost the tech company $1 billion per season. Apple’s 10-year contract with Major League Soccer for the rights to all regular season and League Cup games has cost it a total of $2.5 billion. The iPhone maker is also spending $85 million a year for the next seven years to stream MLB’s Friday Night Baseball on Apple TV+.
According to Gurwin, the competition for the package will be heavily dictated by the creativity of the streaming giants. DirecTV’s history with the package has been hampered by the fact that it is only available to customers with satellite dishes.
If a company wants to win the rights to the Sunday Ticket in the future, Gurwin believes it will need to be flexible in the marketplace.
And with bidders likely to come to the NFL with similar bids running into the billions, they’ll have to assure the league they can offer more than cash given Sunday Ticket’s waning reputation, Chris Lencheski said, CEO of Phenicia Sport, a private equity firm. consulting firm specializing in media, sports and entertainment.
“How do you assure me that the experience they are going to have with the product is superior to what they have seen? said Lencheski. “The bar is low, so it shouldn’t be difficult, but also superior in the sense of a digital product that they’ve compared to many other players out there in the space.”
Lowering the Sunday ticket price for fans isn’t the only way to attract new consumers, Lenchenski explained. It could come down to a viewer consuming games in a way that DirectTV couldn’t offer under its Sunday Ticket ownership.
Lencheski is considering alternative broadcast strategies similar to ESPN’s ManningCast program or the world leader’s “Kayrod” Sunday night baseball edition with Alex Rodriguez and Michael Kay. The possibilities offer streaming companies an endless number of ways to attract Sunday Ticket followers.
“Whoever wins this product comes from the customer experience,” added Lencheski.
Apple’s willingness to experiment with its sports services so far makes it a strong favorite to win the Sunday Ticket offer, according to Gurwin. MLS matches are not only available for free through the Apple TV app, but also for those with Apple TV+ subscriptions and even traditional linear viewers. And, when Yankees judge Aaron took on the Red Sox on Friday, Sept. 23, to see if he would tie Roger Maris’ home run record, fans (myself included) were able to stream for free on Apple TV.
“It looks like their team is willing to try different options to see what works best for the consumer,” Gurwin said.
Another popular way Apple boosts its chances of getting Sunday Ticket is through bundles. Gurwin and Nick Rizzo, research director at Vertical Scope, believe that Apple’s various product offerings can be incorporated into deals with Sunday Ticket.
Gurwin envisions a scenario where Apple offers a free year of Apple TV+ to entice people to sign up for Sunday Ticket. Rizzo could see the tech giant offering free Airpods or Apple Music gift cards.
For Rizzo, these sorts of hypothetical incentives are what Apple needs to offer if it wants to secure the rights to The Sunday Ticket. It recently conducted a preliminary survey asking participants to rank the four companies – Apple, Amazon, Disney and Google – that they would be most excited to join if they offered Sunday Ticket.
The company that participants were the least enthusiastic about joining? Apple.
With streaming numbers well behind its competitors, Rizzo believes the tempting bundles and deals will make customers more accepting of Apple as another streaming service in their monthly subscriptions.
“It’s pretty clear that people don’t want to add this other service,” Rizzo said. “But all signs point to Apple TV likely to win [Sunday Ticket]. So you can see why, from Apple’s point of view, why they would want to do this, because it will force the hand of more fans to say, “Okay, well, I guess I’ll sign up.”
“If they offer incentives to get people to sign up and join Apple TV, that’s going to start giving them exposure and getting more people to their platform.”