Apple pegged as likely NFL Sunday Ticket winner

Apple looks to be the likely winner of the highly coveted NFL Sunday Ticket package, according to a new report from Puck.

Apple, along with Disney and Amazon, were all said to be in the running, having previously submitted bids for rights that cover access to out-of-market football games. However, Puck’s Dylan Byers cited sources close to the negotiations as indicating Apple is most likely the winner of the football sports package. The rights won’t come cheap though, with a price tag previously cited around $2 billion – the latest report indicated higher – closer to $3 billion, which apparently pushed Disney out of the contender arena.

The NFL Sunday Ticket package was previously held by DirecTV, but the league earlier signaled rights would go to a streaming service. In an interview with CNBC last weekend NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said “I clearly believe we will be moving to a streaming service.”   

Sports rights are a hot commodity and streamers have been pushing more into the space. Amazon last  year reached an 11-year $11 billion deal for the NFL’s Thursday Night Football. Apple already has an MLB deal for “Friday Night Baseball” and in June scored a 10-year deal with Major League Soccer to stream. NBCUniversal’s Peacock also scored exclusive MLB rights for Sunday Morning Baseball.

However, with competition for TV sports rights heating up, analysts at TVREV see a bubble forming. In Wednesday analysis, TVREV’s David Bloom highlighted the slew of recent deals such as the aforementioned Apple/Amazon moves; Disney’s increased price of $75 million for F1 rights (up from just $5 million) and decision to pony up $3 billion for Indian Premiere League cricket broadcast rights but back off of pricier streaming rights that were won by Viacom18. Bloom noted IPL media rights more than doubled from its existing deal.  

Taken together, “this, it would seem, is the very definition of a bubble,” Bloom wrote, and questioned how long until it bursts.

“The increased rights deals are fed by a stark reality: live sports remains one of the few remaining reasons anyone pays for cable,” Bloom wrote. “How long will that continue as cord-cutting accelerates, and sports viewing is no longer subsidized by the many cable and broadcast viewers who aren’t sports fans?”

Bloom pointed out that NFL games make up 75 of the top 100 most watched shows on TV, demonstrating the heavy reliance. But there are implications across stakeholders, including increased costs for consumers because streaming services won’t be able to fund costs across a base of, for example, basic cable subscribers, he noted.

“And that complication only worsens when the costs of rights deals is jumping upward faster than an overeager scrub trying to make an impression in an NBA Summer League game,” Bloom wrote.

Legacy rights holders with broadcast and cable outlets will need to decide whether to pull back budgets, a move that could potentially further accurate their decline in the face of lower retransmission consent fees and ad revenues, the analyst said, while cautioning that sports leagues too need to be wary going forward as they’ll also be affected once the bubble bursts.

“As market expectations shift, and audiences fragment, it’s worth asking if we’ve also hit the apex of Peak Sports TV, and what that means for everyone involved,” concluded Bloom.