Streaming lags, solo games, team packages? Readers sound off on NFL Sunday Ticket’s future

For years, prognosticating the fate of the much-revered NFL Sunday Ticket package has been akin to a parlor game, a steady source of gossip, stories and fan angst about who the league would sell the rights to. When the NFL and DirecTV first went to market with the out-of-market games package in 1994, it was a marvel for displaced fans who previously had no other way to watch their teams. Bars and restaurants suddenly could show multiple games at once, creating new business, and DirectTV’s business soared. A newspaper ad then touted, “The NFL Plays Games Most Weeks, Why Not Get Them All?”

Why not, indeed. Sunday Ticket proved a huge success for satellite carrier DirecTV, which renewed at least four times, including an eight-year agreement in 2014, which expires after this coming season. The cost of course rose with each renewal, reaching an average of $1.5 billion annually, straining DirecTV’s budget under new owner AT&T and leading to years of chatter about what would happen to the package.

The most likely result is Sunday Ticket ending up with a streaming company like Amazon or Apple, which sources said is the NFL’s preferred outlet seeing as Jeff Bezos’ empire already has Thursday Night Football. There is even a report that an Apple-Sunday Ticket deal is done, though The Athletic could not confirm that.

The NFL clearly wants to create a frothy bidding process, leading some to question how coveted this package truly is.

“It was, remember: This was the greatest package of rights, Sunday Ticket. I mean, Sunday Ticket could possibly cure cancer. It’s so amazing, right?” TV consultant Patrick Crakes said. “Everybody wants it? no. We got two bidders.”

But beyond money for the NFL and which distributor, or distributors, gets Sunday Ticket, what do fans want out of the transition? The Athletic asked readers their likes and dislikes of the current package, and what they hope for in the new one.

More than 200 responded. A lot of haymakers were thrown DirectTV’s way, but some compliments as well. Fans in rural areas worried about weak broadband if the package went all streaming, some about the loss of Sunday Ticket’s RedZone. Many asked for single teams, and even solo games, to be options rather than having to buy all the contests. Others worried about buffering and streaming lags, while a bar owner asked how these establishments are supposed to handle streaming. Below are excerpts of some of the complaints, wants and hopes for the future of Sunday Ticket (edited for clarity).

Dave Z: Not being able to pause the games sucks. Also, I wish they had a package for just an individual team instead of all of the games.

Sean H: I can’t wait for the contract to end. Over the years, they just kept getting more and more expensive and they never listened to customers who were requesting single-team access within the US (they do offer a package for non-US residents for $99). As far as I’m concerned, they can get bent.

Roger B: I have loved every minute of Sunday Ticket and it has been worth every penny. I have had no issues with DirecTV’s Sunday Ticket and their Extra Innings package is second to none as well. I fear going to a streaming service will lose the flexibility of the DVR. I like being able to go to church, come home and fast-forward through the commercials. That has been great. I also have had far more buffering issues and outages with my ISP and other streaming services than I have ever had with DirecTV … Overall, it is going to be a losing proposition. But at least the poverty-striken NFL owners will get more money.

Jason M: I have had Sunday Ticket for over 10 years now, but I have watched less of the actual games over time as the RedZone Channel has become the gold standard for the coverage. I do wish that it was team-specific or an a la carte option (add teams, conference, division, plus RedZone) and maybe that should be how it is reformatted.

Tyler P: If any issues with login or needing support, it is near impossible to get help. This is a huge problem, especially early in the season when you haven’t interacted with the app/website/service in nine months since the prior season. It feels like (DirecTV has done) the bare minimum to provide the service without any investment in user experience and support — feels like it’s held together by duct tape and bubble gum. I would welcome a new platform!

Scott B: Love Sunday Ticket and love Andrew Siciliano on the RedZone. Once DirecTV loses Sunday Ticket, they’ll probably lose me as a subscriber as well. If whoever gets Sunday Ticket doesn’t keep Siciliano, I’ll buy the NFL RedZone if I can.

Matthew S.: If your team is bad, how much do you want to pay to watch your bad team week after week? And if your team is good, then more (most) games are on a national broadcast, so you pay for 17 weeks but really only need it half the time. In both cases, the value is lower than you’d think.

Tim C: Going to miss being able to pause games and rewinding to watch replays. Streaming is obtuse and not fan-friendly

Daniel H: You can’t watch more than one game at once. Say you have two TVs side-by-side in your living room; you can only sign into one device at a time with your Sunday Ticket credentials. That’s extra frustrating in the 1 pm time slot because there are so many games playing at once. I understand limiting concurrent logins to fight account sharing, but it would be better to have a system like Netflix that allows a certain number of simultaneous logins per household. Better yet, why not have a multiview feature baked into the app and allow viewing of four games at once, the way it’s shown on the RedZone channel sometimes?

Evan S: And specific to the Patriots, it’s been common for 10 to 12 of their 16 games to be on a national feed anyway. I would like it if they offered different options and tiers, such as week-by-week packages, single-team packages, or RedZone only.

Diana K: As a bar owner, we pay an insane amount of money for Sunday Ticket — $1,000 per month for the duration of the season. We’d pay it even if we weren’t a Bills bar in Brooklyn but definitely have to for that reason. Outside of DirecTV weather issues, service itself has been OK. At least we can show the same game on multiple TVs with multiple boxes and content is still synced. That cannot be done with streaming without purchasing a matrix splitter system that’s probably going to run us at least $6,000. We also have not been informed as to whether Amazon will be offering commercial service for Thursday night games this year (most streaming doesn’t offer legal commercial rights to use service if you have a bar) and no one is talking about what happens to the thousands of sports bars who are paying for all these sports now as they move to streaming. We currently don’t have the legal ability to show all La Liga and Bundesliga (soccer) matches, only an arbitrary selection thru commercial ESPN Plus because of the move to streaming … We just want to know that somewhere in this new streaming future that some provision is made for commercial venues like bars preferably sometime before this season’ Amazon takeover of TNF so we can actually be able to swing buying the equipment necessary in time.

(Photo of seahawks receiver DK Metcalf at the DirecTV NFL Sunday Ticket Lounge at Super Bowl LIV: Peter Barreras / Associated Press)

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