Many are excited about the inevitability of NFL Sunday Ticket landing with a new provider for various reasons, from the possibility of improved customer service over DirecTV’s current “please hold” approach to the potential for expanded functionality and more options for viewing out-of-market games. One important change won’t be made.
It won’t get a whole lot cheaper.
Alex Sherman of CNBC.com reports that language in the contracts between the NFL and CBS and Fox preclude a significant reduction in the price point for Sunday Ticket, which currently has a full-season price point in the range of $300. Likewise, an existing streaming service such as ESPN+ can’t simply add Sunday Ticket at no extra charge in order to boost subscribers.
It makes sense. CBS and Fox want people to watch the games offered in their local markets. If Sunday Ticket becomes too affordable, it’s see you later to normal Sunday viewing of the affiliates in a given area.
While I’ve got no reason to doubt the accuracy of Sherman’s report, I’d like to approach it from a different perspective. The NFL negotiated new contracts with CBS and Fox last year, knowing full well that the clock is ticking on Sunday Ticket. If the NFL wanted to create a pathway for cheaper access to Sunday Ticket, it could have changed the term in the CBS and Fox deals.
The NFL didn’t. Presumably, it didn’t want to. CBS and Fox likely would have offered much less to the NFL if it were indeed easier and cheaper for fans to get Sunday Ticket, even though the games available in the local market via CBS and Fox are blacked out. The NFL likewise positioned itself for a bigger payday for Sunday Ticket, given that anyone who wants it will be forking over significant money for the privilege of watching games other than those offered locally for free.
In other words, the NFL is using the full extent of its broadcast antitrust exemption to maximize revenue from CBS, Fox, and DirecTV by agreeing to and/or imposing terms that make it more expensive for fans who, for example, live in Jacksonville but root for the Steelers to see all Pittsburgh games.
There are inherent antitrust problems with telling fans their only way, if they live in Jacksonville, to see all Steelers games will be to buy the entirety of the Sunday Ticket package. Fans should be able to buy Sunday Ticket one game at a time, or one week at a time. Instead, it was — and will still be — a significant expenditure for any fans who don’t live in the market where their favorite team plays to follow the one team that drew them to the NFL in the first place.
Think about that one. The NFL wants you to have a favorite team. But the NFL subtly steers you toward the team where you live, by making it much more expensive to see the team you’d rather watch. There was a chance last year to make it cheaper by revising terms that protect the local CBS and Fox games, and the NFL didn’t do it.