Earlier this summer, John Skipper, the former president of ESPN who’s now the executive chairman of DAZN Group, a subscription streaming service for sports, approached the NFL to see if he might be able to acquire the streaming rights for DirecTV’s Sunday Ticket. DirecTV, which AT&T Inc. bought in 2014, pays the NFL $1.5 billion a year for Sunday Ticket, giving it the exclusive rights to air numerous NFL games each week until 2021. But the agreement had a July opt-out date.
Skipper’s hope was that the NFL would take the early opt-out and split the rights between an online company and a broadcast or satellite company. And of course, he wanted that online company to be his startup, pronounced “Da Zone,” which so far has focused on boxing and mixed martial arts. The company has no intention of remaining a niche player. As Ira Boudway wrote in Bloomberg Businessweek earlier this year, “Skipper won’t call DAZN a ‘Netflix for sports,’ at least not publicly, but it’s useful shorthand” for the company’s ambitions. And if there’s one sure-fire way to make that goal a reality in the U.S., it’s by landing the rights to some National Football League games. “Many media businesses have been built on the strength of the NFL’s content, and OTT will be no different,” Skipper wrote me in an email. (OTT, or over-the-top, is industry lingo for streaming TV untethered to a cable subscription.)