The National Football League has reached a four-year contract extension with DirecTV to remain the TV home of the Sunday Ticket package through 2014.
Announced Monday during the NFL owners meeting in Dana Point, Calif., the pay-per-view pact, according to sources familiar with the negotiations, is valued at about $1 billion annually from 2011-2014. DirecTV currently pays some $700 million annually on its Sunday Ticket contract that expires after the 2010 season.
Both the NFL and DirecTV declined to discuss financial terms.
However, the agreement opens the door to a wider reach for the out-of-home package, which will become available to broadband subscribers that can't receive DirecTV. The satellite leader will aim this broadband game service at those who reside in multi-unit dwellings or DirecTV customers with poor exposure to a satellite signal.
This broader broadband service, according to league officials, would kick off no later than 2012. Currently, broadband coverage of the games is limited to those who purchase Sunday Ticket, and then pay an additional $99 for the broadband Super Fan package.
The parties also extended their carriage agreement for NFL Network, which will continue to be offered on DirecTV's Choice package.
The 2012 season is when customers of a wide swath of distributors could gain access to a new "Red Zone Channel" that would show live-action cut-ins for all Sunday afternoon games, beginning with the 1 p.m. (ET) window and concluding with the contests that begin in the late-afternoon window. This service will be available to cable, telco and satellite systems, wireless devices and the Internet.
The Red Zone Channel has been part of NFL Sunday Ticket on DirecTV for the past four seasons and will continue for those subscribers. In addition to the live look-ins, the channel features real-time highlights from every Sunday afternoon game, and switches from contest to contest, showcasing live action when a team is inside the 20-yard line and poised to score. A host also provides real-time scoring and fantasy updates.
The service would function as an ad-hoc channel on Sundays, according to NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy, who noted that league officials would soon reach out to distributors about the red zone channel. He said the availability of the service would not be tied to distribution of NFL Network. The league's in-house service currently counts about 35 million subscribers, but has not yet reached carriage pacts with such top operators as Time Warner Cable, Cablevision and Suddenlink over pricing and positioning issues.
McCarthy said CBS and Fox, the current holders of the Sunday afternoon packages, had been made aware of the league's new Sunday Ticket and broadband game plan.
A spokesman for Fox Sports declined to comment; CBS officials couldn't be reached for comment by press time.
The rights deal for CBS, Fox and Sunday Night Football carrier NBC all expire after the 2011 season. ESPN's Monday Night Football package goes through 2013.
"We are pleased to extend a partnership with DirecTV that has complemented and supported our broadcast television packages for 15 years," said NFL commissioner Roger Goodell in a statement. "We are looking forward to having the Red Zone channel on cable and other media platforms, as well as showing NFL Sunday Ticket via broadband to the homes that cannot get satellite. This new content enhances our tradition of being the most pro-consumer, widely available sport on television."
"The NFL Sunday Ticker service has been a part of DirecTV since our first year of operation and is one of the defining characteristics of our best-in-class positioning," said Chase Carey, president and CEO of DirecTV Group in a statement. "This latest extension allows us to retain and broaden our most popular sports subscription service. Through our wireless offering to NFL Sunday Ticket customers and the new broadband service to non-customers, we're now able to expand the reach to even more NFL fans everywhere."
At the annual meeting the subject of expanding the NFL regular-season slate was also addressed. While the league is looking to maintain its 20-game schedule -- currently 16 regular and four preseason contests -- there is movement toward adding a 17th or 18th regular-season contest at the expense of one or a pair of exhibition contests.