YouTube in Advanced Talks for N.F.L. Sunday Ticket

Google’s YouTube is nearing a deal to acquire the rights to the National Football League’s Sunday Ticket package of games, according to three people with knowledge of the talks, a deal that would bring a staple of traditional television into the streaming realm.

Google has discussed paying about $2.5 billion a year to the league, $1 billion more than DirecTV, which had the rights for years, according to two of the people, who would speak only anonymously to discuss confidential negotiations.

The league could receive additional payments based on the number of YouTube subscribers that Google is able to add, as well as other performance benchmarks, the people said. The length of the contract is unclear.

The deal with YouTube, if it goes through, could result in a sudden influx for YouTube TV, its premium streaming product. DirecTV has 1.5 million to two million Sunday Ticket subscribers, who pay an additional fee for access to every game on Sunday afternoons except those broadcast in their local markets. YouTube said in July that YouTube TV had more than five million subscribers and trial users of the product, which costs $64.99 a month.

A deal between YouTube and the N.F.L. could be reached as soon as this week, the people said.

YouTube did not respond to a request for comment. A spokesman for the league declined to comment.

YouTube’s pursuit of Sunday Ticket is the latest sign that live sports, the glue that holds the traditional cable bundle together, is shifting toward video-streaming companies. Amazon reached an agreement last year to stream the N.F.L.’s Thursday night football games on its Prime video service for $1 billion annually, and Apple has struck deals to stream both Major League Baseball and Major League Soccer. The Apple TV+ streaming service has already struck rich deals to land major stars for its films and TV shows, including “The Morning Show” and “Killers of the Flower Moon.”

As the negotiations stretched on, Apple became skeptical that the Sunday Ticket package was worth what the N.F.L. was seeking and ended serious conversations about a potential deal, a person familiar with the matter said. Apple honed its focus on completing a deal to sponsor the halftime show for the 2023 Super Bowl, which it believes will raise the profile of its Apple Music service.

DirecTV’s rights for Sunday Ticket are set to expire at the end of the 2022 regular season. There has been years of speculation about who might land the coveted rights.

Within the last year, it became clear that the league had set its sights on selling the Sunday Ticket rights to a streaming service. In July, the N.F.L. commissioner, Roger Goodell, said in an interview with CNBC that a streaming buyer would be “best for consumers.” Apple, YouTube and Amazon soon emerged as leading contenders, tech giants with bankrolls and audiences big enough to entice the N.F.L.

A number of factors weighed on the deal-making process. The league explored bundling the package of out-of-market Sunday N.F.L. games with some of its other media assets, including the NFL Network, complicating matters. In addition, giants like N.F.L. and Apple are accustomed to getting their way during negotiations, and neither side wanted to budge.

Last week, Mr. Goodell said talks were at a “critical” stage.

The Sunday Ticket package is the last big piece of the N.F.L. media rights puzzle to be sold. In March 2021, the league announced 10-year deals with all of its major television partners worth more than $100 billion.

Once the N.F.L. deal is struck, industry speculation will turn to negotiations for the rights to show National Basketball Association games, talks that are expected to begin in earnest next year. Disney and Warner Bros. Discovery, two major N.B.A. rights holders, are expected to explore a bid, as are some of the biggest streaming platforms.

The Wall Street Journal earlier reported YouTube was in advanced talks to acquire the rights.

Nico Grant and Tripp Mickle contributed reporting.


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