The National Football League is in talks with a number of providers interested in replacing DirecTV as distributor of “Sunday Ticket” in a new contract, according to Brian Rolapp, chief operating officer of NFL Media.
“We’re speaking to some companies you’d think of and some you wouldn’t,” Rolapp said today in an interview at the Bloomberg Sports Business Summit in New York. Rolapp declined to elaborate on the identities of the interested buyers.
DirecTV, the largest U.S. satellite television operator, has an exclusive deal for Sunday Ticket with the NFL, enabling it to broadcast out-of-market Sunday afternoon football games until the end of the 2014 season. Chief Executive Officer Mike White said he was optimistic that the contract “will stay with us for the long haul” during a conference call last month.
Rolapp declined to say whether DirecTV (DTV) was the front-runner in negotiations with the league over a new contract. Darris Gringeri, a spokesman for El Segundo, California-based DirecTV, didn’t immediately return a call seeking comment.
The league could sell Sunday Ticket digital rights separately from TV rights and is discussing exclusive deals and non-exclusive contracts with multiple providers, Rolapp said. Digital and TV rights are currently tied together in the contract with DirecTV.
DirecTV’s NFL Sunday Ticket package lets customers watch all of the league’s games, excluding those broadcast by networks’ local affiliates. The service also allows viewers to see the games from different angles and track player statistics.
The satellite TV operator pays about $1 billion per year in its current contract with the NFL. This season, it’s including Sunday Ticket at no additional cost to new subscribers and sells an online-only version to those who can’t get its TV service. About 2 million DirecTV customers paid for Sunday Ticket last season. The company has about 20 million U.S. subscribers.
In addition to Sunday Ticket, NFL games are broadcast by CBS, Fox, NBC and ESPN.
While pay-TV is the NFL’s preferred method of “mass distribution,” Sunday Ticket doesn’t necessarily fit that category because it’s a “premium product” and therefore “a different model,” Rolapp said during a panel at the Sports Business Summit.
Google, Sony Corp. (6758) and Intel Corp. (INTC) are among tech companies working to deliver Web-based TV products, threatening the position of established pay-TV providers such as DirecTV and Time Warner Cable Inc. (TWC) At the same time, networks are demanding higher fees for broadcast signals and looking for new ways to sell digital rights.
DirecTV shares rose 2 percent to $60.84 at the close in New York, taking their gain to 21 percent this year.
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