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Google awarded rights to NFL Sunday Ticket for YouTube

The NFL's out-of-market package will be available on the YouTube app and integrated into YouTube TV

The NFL's out-of-market package will be available on the YouTube app and integrated into YouTube TV

The National Football League (NFL) says it has awarded the domestic broadcast rights to the NFL Sunday Ticket to Google, marking the first time that the Sunday afternoon out-of-market package will be available in the United States solely on a streaming service since it debuted in 1994.

The agreement will allow Google to distribute NFL Sunday Ticket through its cable-like streaming service YouTube TV and separately through the standalone YouTube app. On YouTube, NFL Sunday Ticket will be available to purchase through the newly-launched streaming marketplace, YouTube Primetime Channels.

Neither the NFL nor Google said how much the NFL Sunday Ticket will cost when it debuts on YouTube and YouTube TV next year, nor did the organizations say how much Google would pay for the rights to distribute NFL Sunday Ticket in the United States. Reports on Thursday said Google will pay around $2 billion per year for the exclusive domestic rights to NFL Sunday Ticket, which is about $500 million more than satellite provider DirecTV paid previously, but about $1 billion below what the NFL was hoping to get for the package.

“We’re excited to bring NFL Sunday Ticket to YouTube TV and YouTube Primetime Channels and usher in a new era of how fans across the United States watch and follow the NFL,” Roger Goodell, the commissioner of the NFL, said in a statement on Thursday. “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.”

The NFL Sunday Ticket offers football fans a way to watch live games that are broadcast on local CBS and Fox stations beyond their home market. The NFL said the agreement reached with Google this week also expands on a carriage deal for the league’s two cable channels, NFL Network and NFL RedZone, which were already distributed by YouTube TV.

Putting the NFL Sunday Ticket on a streaming service is not unprecedented for the professional sports league. In the United States, residents of apartment buildings and condos were able to subscribe to a standalone streaming version of the NFL Sunday Ticket through DirecTV, once their address was verified as a location where satellite service was difficult or impossible. In Canada, NFL Sunday Ticket has been offered on streaming service DAZN for a few years.

The agreement announced on Thursday largely removes the barrier to entry for cord-cutters in the United States who want access to NFL Sunday Ticket through the Internet. It also democratizes NFL Sunday Ticket beyond a single pay television company: Most pay TV companies — including Comcast, Charter’s Spectrum, Cox Cable and Dish Network — have replaced old set-top boxes with newer, Internet-connected ones that offer a variety of streaming apps, including YouTube. Customers who are still holding on to traditional cable or satellite will likely be able to get NFL Sunday Ticket through YouTube if their box has a newer version of the app.

Getting the package is also a win for Google, as it seeks to draw more interest to YouTube’s premium subscription product (which, as of now, won’t be a requirement for streamers who simply want NFL Sunday Ticket, but could be dangled as an enticing option if Google discounts the package the way DirecTV did through promotions) and YouTube TV, the streaming cable replacement that starts at $65 a month and includes NFL Network in its base package.

“YouTube has long been a home for football fans, whether they’re streaming live games, keeping up with their home team, or watching the best plays in highlights,” Susan Wojcicki, the CEO of YouTube, said on Thursday. “Through this expanded partnership with the NFL, viewers will now also be able to experience the game they love in compelling and innovative ways through YouTube TV or YouTube Primetime Channels. We’re excited to continue our work with the NFL to make YouTube a great place for sports lovers everywhere.”

The NFL signaled its interest in de-coupling the NFL Sunday Ticket from a traditional pay television platform several years ago, with some executives explicitly stating that the package would almost certainly move to a streaming video provider.

Several companies were named as early front-runners for the NFL Sunday Ticket. Google, Amazon and Apple each expressed interest in obtaining the rights to the package, with tech executives from each company meeting with NFL officials over the last few years. The Walt Disney Company was also reportedly in the running for NFL Sunday Ticket, potentially for its ESPN Plus subscription service, which costs $10 a month or $100 a year, though it isn’t clear if Disney and the league ever held high-level discussions for the package.

Last year, Amazon was named the exclusive national broadcaster for the NFL’s Thursday night games after Fox decided not to renew its agreement with the league for those telecasts. The exclusive rights shifted to Amazon this year, except for a Thursday kickoff match and a Thanksgiving Day game (both of which aired on NBC).

Amazon requires football fans pay $15 a month or $150 a year to watch Thursday Night Football games through Prime Video, though streamers who want to watch the games on their computers, phones or tablets can pay nothing to stream the games on Amazon’s Twitch.

With Thursday night rights shifting to Amazon, some businesses like sports bars and restaurants grew concerned that they would not have the equipment needed to broadcast the event across video screens in their establishments. To remedy these concerns, the NFL and Amazon agreed to allow DirecTV to simulcast Thursday Night Football games through the rest of the season, but only to DirecTV for Business customers.

Last week, reports indicated Apple was no longer in the running for NFL Sunday Ticket after executives expressed concern over the “logic” of integrating the package with its streaming service, Apple TV Plus. On Thursday, sports website The Athletic said Apple wanted any agreement to extend NFL Sunday Ticket rights to future augmented and virtual reality platforms designed by Apple.

The NFL’s decision to go with Google — for a lower dollar amount than what the league was hoping to get — suggests it viewed access to NFL Sunday Ticket over integrating the package into a product that required a separate, ongoing membership fee (Prime Video) or a platform that doesn’t exist and may never exist (whatever virtual reality platform Apple is dreaming up).

Instead, the NFL appeared persuaded by what Google had to offer: The ability to make NFL Sunday Ticket available on a cable-like platform — YouTube TV — as well as a standalone video streaming service that requires no ongoing fees beyond whatever it decides to charge for NFL Sunday Ticket (YouTube, through YouTube Primetime Channels).

As part of the deal announced on Thursday, the NFL said YouTube is now the official sponsor of the NFL Kickoff Weekend and training camp series Back Together Saturday. YouTube will also offer some content creators exclusive access to future NFL events, the league said.

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About the Author:

Matthew Keys

Matthew Keys is the publisher of The Desk and reports on the business and policy matters involving the broadcast television, streaming video and radio industries. He previously worked for Thomson Reuters, Disney-ABC, Tribune Broadcasting and McNaughton Newspapers. Matthew is based in Northern California, has won numerous awards in the field of journalism, and is a member of IRE (Investigative Reporters and Editors).