The NFL has the ability to pull the plug on the current DirecTV Sunday Ticket package at the end of the 2019 season, but the NFL currently isn’t expected to do that. Commissioner Roger Goodell made this point clear in a recent interview with Ben Fischer of Sports Business Journal.
“Obviously AT&T-DirecTV is a different company than when we struck the deal,” Goodell told Fischer. “They have more platforms, they have more assets. The deal we have structured is a satellite-only deal, and so we’ll continue to talk to them about whether that’s made available to a broader audience through other platforms — either through AT&T or otherwise, but those are things that we’ll continue to have discussions about. But I expect to be partners with them for the next several years at least.”
The NFL would be walking away from $3 billion if it ends the $1.5-billion-per-year DirecTV Sunday Ticket deal early, and Goodell’s emphasis on the satellite rights for the out-of-market package means that the league could try to keep the satellite deal in place and sell the Internet streaming rights separately. That would expand the availability of the premium package while also maintaining the significant revenue stream that comes from DirecTV.
The terms of the deal between the NFL and DirecTV had been the subject of various conflicting and ultimately inaccurate reports. PFT reported in July that the NFL has a one-way option to cancel the last two years of the deal, with the deadline coming at the end of the 2019 season. If, as Goodell says, it’s a satellite-only package, there’s no reason for the league to ditch DirecTV; the only question is whether the league will augment the satellite-based Sunday Ticket with a streaming option to be purchased by AT&T or another digital company, like Amazon or YouTube.
Hovering over the entire business model is a resurrected antitrust lawsuit attacking the entire concept of making out-of-market games available exclusively through an all-games-all-season-or-nothing Sunday Ticket package. While that lawsuit could take years to resolve, it potentially will disrupt the league’s efforts to distribute content through means other than traditional broadcast TV, a format in which the league enjoys an antitrust exemption that allows the NFL to require broadcast networks to buy a comprehensive package of TV rights, without cherry picking, for example, all Cowboys or Patriots or Steelers or Packers home games.