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NFL Sunday Ticket: Headed to Apple?

Tom Brady
From the Washington Football Team vs Tampa Bay Buccaneers at FedEx Field, Landover, Maryland, January 9, 2021 (All-Pro Reels Photography)

For the better part of two years, it’s been clear that NFL Sunday Ticket, the NFL’s longtime out-of-market TV package, would be moving from its longtime home at DirecTV to somewhere else, most likely a streaming service, starting with the 2023 season. It hasn’t always been clear which one, with differing reports calling Amazon, Apple or Disney/ESPN the favorite at different times.

At one point, the belief was that the NFL would have a deal in place by the time the 2022 season started. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, a year ago, called a Sunday Ticket deal “months away.”

There was even a report at one point that Apple and the NFL had a deal but were holding off on announcing it.

But now, the season is less than a month from its end, and there’s still no word on a destination for Sunday Ticket. And while Apple has been considered the favorite of late, there’s no deal yet, and there may not be one this year.

According to a Sportico report this week, negotiations have reached a “very critical point.” The report states that one big sticking point in the talks is that Apple wants Sunday Ticket to be included with Apple TV+, while the NFL is balking at that, with the league wishing to protect the value of its other packages.

The report did state that Apple remains the favorite to end up with Sunday Ticket.

“The glacial pace of the negotiations—Sunday Ticket has been in play for the better part of the last two years—has been exacerbated by the pertinacity of the NFL and its lead suitor,” the Sportico story said. “Forget the old saw about the irresistible force rendezvousing with the immovable object; the NFL-Apple talks are a standoff between two parties that have never heard the word ‘no.’”

The Sportico story also said that Disney, Amazon, and Google remain interested, although Apple remains the favorite.

Back in November, The Athletic reported that things had been dragging with the Apple/NFL talks. Per that report, “market insiders describe a stalemate of sorts between the entertainment titans that have at the very least delayed the consummation of the expected partnership.”

One insider close to the NFL told The Athletic about philosophical differences at the heart of the disagreement.

“Because you have to think about, not the way things are today, not just the way things are tomorrow,” that person said. “But the technology that has never even been invented, delivery systems that have never even been invented yet, ways people want to consume that have never been invented yet.”

The report added that Apple was interested in selling in-market games, while those have not traditionally been part of the Sunday Ticket package.

Since the talks began, Apple and the NFL have reached a separate deal in which Apple Music became the sponsor of the Super Bowl Halftime Show. And Apple, which until recently had never reached a deal for sports rights, this year began offering weekly Major League Baseball games, and also agreed to essentially take over streaming of Major League Soccer.

Most NFL games are shown on national television, on Fox, CBS, and NBC, with the broadcasts produced by the networks but the home market’s games are always available. For fans who like to follow the whole league, or who follow a team away from the market where they live, Sunday Ticket is a godsend. Many fans go to bars and restaurants to watch the games, but Sunday Ticket is also available at home, but only to DirecTV customers. For other sports, most games are produced locally, and the out-of-market packages are available to stream.

The package is important because the NFL is, by far, the most popular show on TV. Nearly every week during the season, most of the top-rated programs are NFL games.

Stephen Silver is a Senior Editor for 19FortyFive. He is an award-winning journalist, essayist and film critic, who is also a contributor to the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Broad Street Review and Splice Today. The co-founder of the Philadelphia Film Critics Circle, Stephen lives in suburban Philadelphia with his wife and two sons. Follow him on Twitter at @StephenSilver.

Written By

Stephen Silver is a journalist, essayist, and film critic, who is also a contributor to Philly Voice, Philadelphia Weekly, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Living Life Fearless, Backstage magazine, Broad Street Review, and Splice Today. The co-founder of the Philadelphia Film Critics Circle, Stephen lives in suburban Philadelphia with his wife and two sons. Follow him on Twitter at @StephenSilver.