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YouTube secures $14bn NFL streaming deal as Big Tech chases sports rights

Google’s YouTube has secured rights to broadcast some US National Football League matches from next season, in a landmark deal that signals how Big Tech is reshaping the market for live sports rights.

The package, which will run seven years beginning in 2023, will give the video site the exclusive rights to the “Sunday Ticket” subscription service beginning next season. The service allows US fans to watch any game shown on the biggest game day of the week.

The deal, worth more than $14bn according to a person familiar with the matter, is an additional service on top of the NFL’s current 11-year, $110bn broadcast agreement agreed last year, the most expensive live sports rights in the world.

Roger Goodell, commissioner of the NFL, said the deal reflects the league’s ambition to expand its digital footprint and “is yet another example of us looking towards the future and building the next generation of NFL fans”.

The sale epitomises a growing shift away from expensive cable packages towards streamers, with Sunday Ticket now set to leave its longtime home on AT&T’s DirecTV satellite platform.

Traditional media players like Disney, Paramount, and Comcast have long bought up rights to the most popular sporting events to attract and retain subscribers, but are now faced with growing competition from deeper-pocketed tech groups.

Apple, Amazon and Meta have in recent years have paid billions of dollars for the rights to screen events from the NFL to English Premier League football matches.

“It’s a very loud wake-up call for traditional media companies,” said the chief executive of a longtime bidder for sports rights. “First Apple and now this . . . television, cable and satellite companies will struggle to respond”. 

The move also marks the latest — and most significant — push by Google’s YouTube into live sports broadcasting, as the platform expands beyond its core offering of user-generated videos.

YouTube will pay just over $2bn per year for retail Sunday Ticket subscriptions, according to a person with knowledge of the deal terms, while the total value of the Sunday Ticket package could reach $2.5bn per year when accounting for commercial and wholesale rights to bars and restaurants.

The influx of Big Tech into sports has added further pressure on traditional US broadcasters, who have seen their share prices halved this year as investors sour on the unprofitable streaming business model they have moved towards.

Earlier this year, Apple agreed a deal worth $2.5bn over 10 years to broadcast US Major League Soccer matches, following an earlier deal with Major League Baseball for Friday games. Amazon earned its first exclusive sports rights when it joined the current NFL package, paying roughly $1bn for the league’s Thursday night games, according to a person familiar with that transaction.

New rights package records were also set this year for the Indian Premier League cricket tournament, which netted $6.2bn for distribution from 2023-2027, the second-most expensive globally on a per-match basis after the NFL.

As investors have forced a fresh era of austerity on Hollywood, traditional media groups are struggling to make the numbers add up, while larger technology groups are viewed as being better able to swallow the rising costs of sports media rights.

YouTube a few months ago surpassed Netflix as the most popular streaming service for watching television, according to data provider Nielsen.

Sunday Ticket is a subscription service which allows viewers to pay to watch out-of-market NFL games not available on their local CBS or Fox affiliate channels, a quirk of the geographically diverse US landscape and the dense football schedule, with most games scheduled on Sunday afternoons. The service effectively allows viewers in New York to watch games in Minnesota, Texas, or other regions if those games are “blacked out” by their local network.

YouTube’s advertising revenues fell 2 per cent in the third quarter, their first decline since the company started reporting its performance separately from its Google parent in 2020, amid a challenging macroeconomic environment and advertising slump.

YouTube has since 2017 offered YouTubeTV, its streaming bundle, which currently costs $64.99 a month. In November, the platform also launched a new online hub, Primetime Channels, where users can subscribe to individual streaming services such as Showtime or Starz.

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