Will YouTube TV Crack the Live Sports Enigma as the New Home of NFL Sunday Ticket?

Perspectives, Platform Stories / by Alex Lawson on September 8, 2023

Will YouTube TV Crack the Live Sports Enigma as the New Home of NFL Sunday Ticket?

4 minute read

Sundays are Getting a Facelift as NFL Sunday Ticket Moves to Streaming Partner YouTube TV.


Sundays are going to look a bit different this year as the NFL has made the decision to award the much coveted and lucrative NFL Sunday Ticket rights contract to a newcomer, streaming partner YouTube TV. For YouTube TV’s (operated under parent Google) part the move comes with a hefty price tag, as it is reported the final contract is for seven years and $14 billion in total. The decision to outbid competitors ESPN, Amazon, and former owner AT&T/DirectTV, is the latest sign that the cord-cutting phenomenon is continuing to gain momentum beyond the millennial and Gen-Z generations. In fact, it is estimated that by the end of 2023, 54.4% of American households will no longer subscribe to a traditional cable TV service. YouTube TV is going all-in to attract as many cable defectors as possible and is placing its bets behind the media juggernaut that is the NFL as a means of capturing the largest market share in a crowded arena. Will this bet pay off? As we have witnessed, look no further than Bally Sports (owned by parent Sinclair Broadcasting signed a 10-year/$24B rights contract with the NBA) which filed for bankruptcy in March 2023 after missing a $140 million dollar interest payment, throwing big money at sports contracts has come with mixed results. 


Will YouTube TV crack the Live Sports Enigma? TelmarHelixa Takes a Look to Understand What we Can Expect from the New Partnership. 


TelmarHelixa’s data partnership with MRI-Simmons makes it possible to directly compare the NFL Sunday Ticket viewers in the last 12 months, while on DirectTV, to that of YouTube TV’s audience. Interestingly, the YouTube TV audience is more likely to be male and older than the NFL Sunday Ticket viewership. As some younger people may see YouTube TV as akin to cable, the addition of NFL Sunday Ticket opens the possibility of this younger audience subscribing to YouTube TV. 


It is important to note that local NFL games will not be affected by the shift to YouTube TV. That is to say, that users within the local markets will still be able to watch their favorite team or teams via the networks FOX & CBS. Additionally, Sunday Night Football (NBC), Monday Night Football (ESPN/ABC), and Thursday Night Football (Amazon) will remain nationally televised. 


The biggest draw of NFL Sunday Ticket is the ability to watch Out-of-Market games that are not available on local channels, allowing viewers to choose which game to watch regardless of their geographic location. Traditional subscribers of NFL Sunday Ticket fall into two main categories; 1. Transplants who have moved away from their favorite teams and 2. Die hard fans who, if offered, would drink NFL directly from the tap. 


However, the sustained popularity of Fantasy Football mixed with the emergence of legalized sports betting across the country has attracted casual and non-NFL fans to the viewing audience in increasingly larger numbers.  


YouTube TV and Google are making a calculated bet by leveraging the affinities and psychographics of their existing subscriber base: Gamblers (3.25x), Influencer motivated (5.35x), and love of sports (3.08x), while assuming the hardcore fans who traditionally subscribe to NFL Sunday Ticket will go outside of their comfort zone to ensure they do not miss a single snap of football. Gamblers are not only more likely to subscribe to NFL Sunday Ticket, but they are also more likely to be engage with Fantasy Football (10.52x) than the average American. 


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A quick analysis of the combined Draft Kings or Fan Duel audience and their high affinity toward Fantasy Football offers a targeting strategy for recruiting new subscribers to YouTube TV through NFL Sunday Ticket. It appears that both Fan Duel and YouTube TV have taken notice, as they have officially formed a partnership ahead of the NFL season and it is reported that Fan Duel will launch a new channel on the streaming platform. 


Which NFL Teams Attract the Most Viewers?


With these three fan categories in mind, we took a look at the teams with the highest engagement on a National level. 


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The comparison between historical NFL Sunday Ticket viewers and YouTube TV fans was fairly consistent, with the exception of the Carolina Panthers which were far more popular among NFL Sunday Ticket viewers than YouTube TV fans. Other teams that fell into this category were the Pittsburgh Steelers, Seattle Seahawks, and Philadelphia Eagles. This valuable knowledge can help YouTube TV carve out a marketing strategy that will focus the most popular teams, Nationally, in promotional material.


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It’s easy to envision a YouTube TV commercial during the opening Kick-Off Weekend focusing on these teams to make sure their fans know exactly how to watch out-of-market games. 


Going Beyond the Front of the Jersey… Which Players Move the Needle? 


In the new age of sports fandom, which includes unprecedented access via social media to players and the blurring of loyalty lines through Fantasy Sports, viewership is increasingly driven by league stars. Hardcore football and casual fans alike will make it a point to tune into exciting match-ups between star quarterbacks, or a compelling in-game matchup between an electric wide receiver and a shutdown corner. Whereas fantasy players will tune in to see if their team's roster can live up to their expectations and grab enough individual points to win this week's matchup. 


With that in mind, we took a look at the players with the largest engagement on a national level among traditional NFL Sunday Ticket viewers and YouTube TV enthusiasts. 

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Immediately the results were intriguing, as the YouTube TV’s audience is far more likely to engage with individual players than the traditional NFL Sunday Ticket viewers. This may signal a shift in the viewership habits, suggesting that the YouTube TV’s audience is more likely to be casual fans interested in either daily Sports Betting or Fantasy Football. Whereas the traditional NFL Sunday Ticket audience is more likely to be hardcore football fans who are team or league motivated. 

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West Coast Dreaming… The Fantasy Darlings from the Left Coast


One of the biggest benefits of NFL Sunday Ticket is the national exposure of teams in low viewership markets due to the perceived “East Coast Bias.”  Through NFL Sunday Ticket, subscribers are able to keep up with their fantasy team or keep tabs on star players on the West Coast. YouTube TV’s audience is 2.22x more likely to have participated in fantasy sports than the average American in the last 12 months. 


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Christian McCaffrey, drafted in 100% of fantasy leagues this year and who plays for the San Francisco 49ers, is a fantasy powerhouse who fans from across the country will want to track in real-time. YouTube TV should look to include him and his likeness in promotional materials as a means to attract East Coast fans to the complete NFL Sunday Ticket lineup. 


Will the Streaming Experiment be Profitable in the Long-Term? 


Though YouTube TV, and parent Google, have seemingly unlimited budgets they are still in the business of making money and a $12 billion dollar line item is a lot to offset. Based on our analysis, and strategy recommendations we believe this is a bet that will pay off in the long-term. The trend away from traditional cable to streaming and customized viewing experience we expect to not only continue but to increase exponentially as studios, media partners, and content providers adapt to the changing media landscape. Additionally, the shift in loyalty among younger audiences (millennials and Gen-Z) from teams to individual players increases the need to consume games beyond local markets. 


YouTube TV is in a strong position to finally solve the Live Sports Enigma and revolutionize how we as consumers interact with leagues on a national scale. 



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