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Volume 22 No. 31
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‘Ticket’ Testers

The NFL will evaluate the impact of DirecTV’s digital option for Sunday Ticket and could opt out early from its long-running deal with the satellite service.
When they aren’t attending Rams or Chargers games in person, Los Angeles NFL fans can watch the sport by streaming it.
Photo: Getty Images

This month the NFL will assess the results of its first-ever streaming of DirecTV’s Sunday Ticket as the league considers upending its long-running out-of-market package.


The NFL and AT&T, the owner of DirecTV, quietly agreed over the summer to move back the league’s option to end the deal early from this fall to next spring. As part of that agreement, the league allowed

DirecTV to stream Sunday Ticket in seven markets: Boston, Hartford, Los Angeles, Louisville, Philadelphia, Phoenix and San Antonio, said a source familiar with the deal.


The NFL wants to analyze how much demand there is for offering games digitally rather than just through satellite before making its decision. With the option originally available in the fall, the league decided it did not have enough time to make an informed choice.


“It was less a value conversation,” the source said of the decision to postpone the option period, “and more of a calendar-like pragmatic decision on when we would get the [streaming data].”


The league is in the midst of its silver-anniversary season with DirecTV.
Photo: Getty Images

The NFL struck its first DirecTV package in 1994, allowing the satellite broadcaster to offer all games to subscribers in addition to the ones shown on broadcast in their markets. In 2014, the NFL agreed to extend the satellite deal for another eight years at $1.5 billion annually through 2022, a 50 percent increase from the previous 2009 renewal. The option allows the league to slice the last three years off the current deal. That means if the NFL exercises the option, next season is the last under the current deal.


The NFL declined to comment. DirecTV wrote in a statement, “We do not comment on rumors or speculation.”


It’s unclear when exactly the option arrives next spring, but chances are the NFL will decide by or at the annual owners meeting that is scheduled to begin on March 25.


The league is already streaming its Thursday night package on Amazon, while broadcasting it on Fox. And this year, in-market games are available for mobile streaming on any cellular carrier. That’s why experts expect the league to perhaps split the digital and satellite packages.


“Maybe you sell satellite rights to DirecTV and digital rights to Apple, and instead of a billion and five you can generate two, two and half billion in total,” said media analyst Rich Greenfield of BTIG. “If I am sitting in the NFL’s shoes, there is a lot of reasons to want to bring in new buyers like they have for ‘Thursday Night Football.’ It is harder to do that on things like Sunday afternoon. But I would think a Sunday Ticket is an obvious place for experimentation and trying new things.”


It’s unclear how many DirecTV subscribers were aware of the streaming. Because it was limited to seven markets, DirecTV’s national advertising campaign did not mention it, Greenfield said.


After the NFL staff analyzes the data, the next step is to involve the broadcast committee. New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft is the chairman of that committee. The NFL has an owners meeting scheduled for Dec. 12, and committees typically convene in the weeks before those gatherings.