Move to YouTube Could Boost Number of NFL Sunday Ticket Subscribers

NFL Sunday Ticket
(Image credit: DirecTV)

Moving  “NFL Sunday Ticket” to Google’s YouTube TV and YouTube Premium Channels may help the National Football League reach more consumers and enable more fans to subscribe to the out-of-market package.

The NFL announced its long-awaited decision on Wednesday. As football is the most popular programming on television, the move could have a seismic effect as sports migrate from traditional pay TV to streaming.

According to a recent survey by the National Research Group, 71% of NFL fans say they’d consider adding a subscription to a new streaming service in order to watch out-of-market Sunday Ticket games. That includes 19% who said they’d subscribe regardless of what other content is in the package.

About 60% of NFL fans said they’d watch Sunday Ticket games on a weekly basis if they had access.

The survey found that many fans are already streaming games, with 60% of fans under 35 years old streaming at least one game per week live on a TV screen.

In a survey of NFL fans by The Streamable, 35% said that YouTube was their preferred destination for NFL Sunday Ticket. More than twice as many fans preferred YouTube over Apple TV Plus as the new streaming home for NFL Sunday Ticket.

The Streamable surveyed 5,018 NFL fans.

Also: The NFL Gets a Shiny New Streaming Partner With Google for ‘Sunday Ticket,’ But Have We Hit Peak Sports Rights? (Bloom)

“There is a clear customer preference for Sunday Ticket to go to YouTube,” said Jason Gurwin, CEO of The Streamable. “For the NFL, bringing Sunday Ticket to YouTube gives them access to one of the largest streaming platforms, only behind Netflix for viewing hours on connected TV devices. If the NFL wants to have the widest distribution for Sunday Ticket on a single streamer, this is a huge opportunity for them.”

Sunday Ticket should bring more attention to Google-owned YouTube, which is reportedly paying $2 billion per year over seven years for the package. YouTube already has the biggest share of TV viewing among streamers, according to Nielsen.

“Sunday Ticket would give sports viewers a reason to open the app every Sunday. It also brings a unique property to YouTube TV that none of the other live TV streaming services can offer,” Gurwin said.

The NFL this season made Amazon Prime Video the exclusive national home of its Thursday Night Football games, a history-making first time for a streamer. Putting Sunday Ticket on another streaming package might be a two-minute warning for broadcast and cable.

“As with all of television, the future of live sports is undergoing a systemic shift away from pure legacy models to likely more lucrative streaming models where most of Americans now consume content,” Ashwin Navin, co-founder and CEO of Samba TV, said.

“YouTube’s move to take programming that has historically been exclusively available to traditional TV subscribers and make it available to its streaming viewers will only hasten the secular decline of linear television as it begins to lose more and more of its last major hold on household audiences,” Navin said. “The numbers speak for themselves as to the impact football’s continued exodus will have on cable — every single one of the top 10 linear television programs in November were NFL games, and we are now speeding towards a future where many of these games and those of other sports, including baseball and basketball, will be streaming-first.”

Other bidders for Sunday Ticket included Apple, Disney’s ESPN and Amazon’s Prime Video. 

In The Streamable’s survey 23% more fans wanted Sunday Ticket to go to YouTube than Amazon Prime Video, 73% more than ESPN Plus and 122% more than Apple TV Plus.

While the move to YouTube was popular with fans, the current $300 base price for Sunday Ticket is not. YouTube and the NFL did not disclose their plans for pricing Sunday Ticket as a streaming package.

In an earlier survey of 2,562 NFL fans, The Streamable found half said they definitely will or are likely to subscribe to Sunday Ticket, which offers telecasts from CBS and Fox that aren’t available in local markets, but only 26% of fans are willing to pay the current $300 base price.

Because the NFL has made contractual promises to preserve viewing of games on broadcast, the price tag on Sunday Ticket is expected to remain high. 

The Streamable found that a base price of $150 to $200 could increase potential subscribers by 1.67 to 1.94 times compared to the current $300 base price.

If it can’t drop the price, YouTube will have to get creative by providing other incentives for new subscribers that reduce the effective cost to the consumer, the Streamable said. This could include offering discounted subscriptions for new YouTube TV customers.

Losing Sunday Ticket can’t be good for DirecTV, which was losing money on the package at $1.5 billion annually and balked at a price hike. 

Also: DirecTV Lost 500,000 Subs in Third Quarter, Fitch Says

AT&T which spun off DirecTV in 2021, paid DirecTV $2.1 billion to cover losses stemming from the NFL Sunday Ticket contract.

DirecTV has been making it easier for non-satellite TV consumers to stream Sunday Ticket, but some subscribers may drop the service if they don’t need it to watch NFL games.

DirecTV has about 1.5 million Sunday Ticket subscribers. When Apple appeared to be the front-runner to take over Sunday Ticket, DirecTV offered to help retain current subscribers by offering to serve as a storefront for Apple, passing along subscriber fees paid by DirecTV customers. It was expected that DirecTV would offer similar assistance to YouTube. 

DirecTV has been marketing itself as a service where viewers can watch live sports as well as on-demand entertainment. It continues to offer the sports that are on the broadcast network affiliates, national sports channels like ESPN and regional sports networks.

It has also been looking to beat back the streaming tide by integrating services like Discovery Plus and Peacock, making it easier for its users to watch streaming content. ■

Jon Lafayette

Jon has been business editor of Broadcasting+Cable since 2010. He focuses on revenue-generating activities, including advertising and distribution, as well as executive intrigue and merger and acquisition activity. Just about any story is fair game, if a dollar sign can make its way into the article. Before B+C, Jon covered the industry for TVWeek, Cable World, Electronic Media, Advertising Age and The New York Post. A native New Yorker, Jon is hiding in plain sight in the suburbs of Chicago.