YouTube Bags NFL ‘Sunday Ticket’ Package

The NFL is taking another big step into the streaming world.

The league has struck a deal with Google’s YouTube for rights to the NFL Sunday Ticket subscription package beginning with the 2023 season. YouTube will take over Sunday Ticket from previous rights holder DirecTV, whose contract is up at the end of this season.

Sunday Ticket, which lets users watch Sunday afternoon games not aired by CBS and Fox in their home markets, will be available through the YouTube TV multichannel streaming video service, as well as through YouTube Primetime Channels, where users can subscribe to standalone offerings like Showtime and Starz.

“We’re excited to bring NFL Sunday Ticket to YouTube TV and YouTube Primetime Channels and usher in a new era of how fans across the United States watch and follow the NFL,” NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said in a statement. “For a number of years we have been focused on increased digital distribution of our games and this partnership is yet another example of us looking towards the future and building the next generation of NFL fans.”

Sunday Ticket is the last piece of the NFL’s media rights package, most of which the league and its broadcast partners hammered out in a massive, $100 billion-plus deal in 2021. The new deal also begins with the 2023 season, though Fox ceded its Thursday Night Football package to Amazon a year early.

DirecTV has been paying $1 billion to $1.5 billion per year for Sunday Ticket, and the league was reportedly seeking substantial increases on that in the next package. Disney, which owns ESPN, had “conversations” about Sunday Ticket with the NFL after the main rights deal was signed last year, and lately Apple had been considered a frontrunner to land the package. YouTube swooped in late with the best offer.

The cost for Sunday Ticket on YouTube is still to be announced; DirecTV charges $294 per season for the basic Sunday Ticket package and $396 for one that includes the highlights-driven Red Zone channel and a third channel centered on fantasy football. DirecTV reportedly lost money on Sunday Ticket.

Moving to YouTube could expand Sunday Ticket’s reach beyond DirecTV’s current subscriber base of 13.5 million. While only about 5 million homes currently subscribe to YouTube TV, placing Sunday Ticket as a standalone offering on Primetime Channels will allow users to buy the NFL package by itself rather than as part of a bundle.

The NFL has become increasingly aggressive with its streaming plans in the past two years. Thursday Night Football has had a decent first season on Amazon’s Prime Video, averaging about 9.7 million viewers per game, according to Nielsen (Amazon’s first-party figures put the audience at 11.4 million, below the reported 12.5 million it guaranteed advertisers). The league also launched its own streaming service, NFL+, catering to mobile device users and carrying some live game telecasts, audio for every game and some library programming.

The deal also gives YouTube a big entrant in the live sports game, which has become a bigger part of the streaming menu in the past two years. Peacock is coming off a successful men’s World Cup, where it streamed Telemundo’s Spanish-language coverage, and has rights to the English Premier League. Paramount+ carries the UEFA Champions League via CBS Sports, while Apple TV+ streamed several Major League Baseball games this past season and will be the exclusive streaming home of Major League Soccer beginning in 2023.

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