In a move that further deepens the tech industry’s move into streaming live televised sports, the NFL has awarded the rights to its Sunday Ticket package to Google.
The NFL and the Mountain View, Calif.-based company announced Thursday that the package, which gives viewers access to out-of-market network TV broadcasts of the league’s Sunday afternoon games, will be offered as a subscriber product through its YouTube TV streaming service starting in the 2023 season.
“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,” NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said in a statement.
The league did not reveal the price for the rights, although reports put the annual figure for Google at $2.5 billion — an increase of $1 billion over what current rights holder satellite TV provider DirecTV is paying. Around 2 million DirecTV subscribers currently shell out $300 a year for Sunday Ticket, which the company has offered since 1994.
Google said Sunday Ticket will be available as an add-on service for YouTube TV subscribers. The company did not reveal if the annual price will change.
It will also be offered as a stand-alone service on YouTube’s PrimeTime Channels. The company did not reveal any details whether pricing will change.
Amazon, Apple and the Walt Disney Co.‘s ESPN — which wanted Sunday Ticket for its ESPN+ streaming service — were the other contenders.
Apple, which already has Major League Baseball games and is exclusive rights holder to Major League Soccer regular season contests, was considered the best bet to nab Sunday Ticket.
Amazon, which has the rights to “Thursday Night Football” and demonstrated its ability to provide an exclusive game to a mass streaming audience, was also believed to have an inside track.
But Google prevailed, and it appears the company is prepared to use Sunday Ticket as a loss leader aimed at boosting its YouTube TV service, which streams cable and broadcast channels for a monthly fee. Google would need around 8 million subscribers at the current $300 a year price to cover the rights fee.
The NFL is by far the most popular live TV attraction — through the first half of the current season, games averaged around 16 million viewers, towering over all other programming. But it would take a lot of passionate fans with favorite teams outside of their home markets to get Google over the 8 million subscriber threshold.
The best Sunday NFL match-ups are scheduled for late afternoon or prime time and are available on free TV.
The move from the struggling DirectTV to a streaming service is not a surprise, as more consumers, especially younger ones, are bypassing traditional cable and satellite TV subscriptions.
The deal has no immediate effect on the NFL’s deal with its traditional broadcast network partners Fox and CBS, which have the rights to Sunday afternoon games through 2032.
But it does point to a future where streaming could be the primary delivery system for sports programming.