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Apple in early talks to stream NFL Sunday Ticket games

Disney's ESPN and Amazon are also in the mix. Many major tech and media companies are competing for streaming subscribers and spending big on original content.
Minnesota Vikings v Detroit Lions
A camera operator during a game between the Minnesota Vikings and the Detroit Lions at Ford Field on January 3, 2021 in Detroit, Mich.Rey Del Rio / Getty Images file

Apple executives have held preliminary discussions with NFL leadership about acquiring the rights for the league’s Sunday Ticket package for Apple TV+, according to three people with knowledge of the discussions.

The tech giant joins a number of other tech and media companies who are pursuing rights to Sunday Ticket, which gives subscribers access to all NFL games outside their local television markets. Amazon and Disney’s ESPN are also pursuing the rights, sources at both those companies said. The people that spoke to NBC News did so under condition of anonymity to discuss ongoing negotiations.

While talks are ongoing and in the early stages, a change in ownership of the NFL’s Sunday Ticket package would mark a seismic shift at a time when many major tech and media companies are competing for streaming subscribers and spending big on original content.

Rights for the ticket are currently held by DirecTV, which pays around $1.5 billion a year. That deal is set to expire after the 2022 season. News of Apple’s interest was first reported by The Information.

Talks between Apple and the NFL have been ongoing for months and continued this week at the Allen & Company conference in Sun Valley, Idaho. Apple CEO Tim Cook and Senior Vice President Eddy Cue are attending the conference, as are NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and Robert Kraft, chairman of the NFL ownership group’s media committee and owner of the New England Patriots.

Apple has had an eye on sports rights for some time. Last June, it hired Jim DeLorenzo, previously the head of sports at Amazon Video, to pursue rights opportunities.

The battle for the rights highlights the overwhelming power of live sports, and particularly football. NFL games are far and away the most highly rated shows on television every year, and companies such as Amazon and ViacomCBS have seen those rights as essential to driving subscriptions for their streaming sites.

Earlier this year, the NFL finalized media deals for the next decade, including one that will make Amazon Prime Video the exclusive home for Thursday Night Football. The remaining deals will keep the vast majority of NFL games on the familiar network and cable TV channels, but with more opportunities to expand access to games on streaming.

“Streaming is truly the future,” Kraft said on a conference call with reporters at the time of the announcement. This “new hybrid of traditional viewing options and streaming ... will help transition viewers to that future.”