The end of an era for DirecTV and the National Football League was made official Wednesday with the announcement that Google has won the right to exclusively distribute the NFL Sunday Ticket out-of-market pro football games package via its YouTube TV and YouTube Primetime Channels live streaming platforms.

The NFL announced the multi-year agreement through which Google’s YouTube TV and YouTube Primetime Channels can start exclusively distributing the NFL Sunday Ticket package to U.S. consumers starting with the 2023 NFL season.

Google reportedly won the coveted sports service after Apple dropped out of the running. The NFL owners reportedly turned down Apple’s plan to offer the expensive premium sports package at no additional charge as part of its expanding premium Apple TV+ streaming service. The NFL was reportedly under contractual agreements with the CBS and FOX broadcasting networks that would have prevented offering live out-of-market Sunday NFL games without a premium fee.

The league said the strategic partnership with YouTube TV will provide fans greater access to NFL Sunday Ticket via YouTube’s streaming technology and innovation.

“We’ re excited to bring NFL Sunday Ticket to YouTube TV and YouTube Primetime Channels and usher in a new era of how fans across the United States watch and follow the NFL,” Roger Goodell, NFL Commissioner, said in a statement on the deal. “For a number of years we have been focused on increased digital distribution of our games and this partnership is yet another example of us looking towards the future and building the next generation of NFL fans.”

“YouTube has long been a home for football fans, whether they’ re streaming live games, keeping up with their home team, or watching the best plays in highlights,” added Susan Wojcicki, CEO of YouTube. “Through this expanded partnership with the NFL, viewers will now also be able to experience the game they love in compelling and innovative ways through YouTube TV or YouTube Primetime Channels. We’ re excited to continue our work with the NFL to make YouTube a great place for sports lovers everywhere.”

Google’s plan starting next season is to offer the NFL Sunday Ticket on two of YouTube’s expanding subscription businesses. As it was on DirecTV, Sunday Ticket will be offered as an add-on package on for the YouTube TV platform as well as a standalone a-la-carte purchase on YouTube Primetime Channels.

The NFL Sunday Ticket has long been a conduit for football fans looking to watch live Sunday games of their favorite out-of-market NFL teams as well as the games of out-of-market division rivals.

The service provides access to all Sunday regular-season NFL games other than those already available from local CBS or FOX affiliate channels.

Updated NFL Sunday Ticket product features and functionality will be announced ahead of the 2023 NFL season, according to the announcement.

NFL Sunday Ticket launched on the DirecTV direct-to-home satellite TV service in 1994. But in that time the service has gone through multiple ownership changes, and most recently is the property of media/communications behemoth AT&T, which after years of declining subscriber numbers, opted not to renew the pricey sports jewel.

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There was some speculation that DirecTV might continue to carry the commercial portion of the NFL Sunday Ticket for public venues like restaurants and bars, but according to the announcement, the NFL and YouTube will work together to determine additional ways to support distribution of NFL Sunday Ticket in commercial establishments.

The NFL is well familiar with Google through previous partnerships including the launch of the official NFL channel on YouTube in 2015. In that time, and with multiple carriage partners, the NFL YouTube channel has grown to more than 10 million subscribers, offering daily NFL news reporting, occasional live national games and coverage of the annual NFL Draft, key game replays, clips, highlights and game-day compilations, among other fare.

In 2020, the NFL expanded the partnership with a carriage agreement for both the NFL Network and NFL RedZone channel for YouTube TV subscribers. Since 2015, the NFL’ s presence on YouTube has also grown to include channels for all 32 NFL clubs, as well as 10 official League channels including NFL Films, NFL Network, and the NFL’ s Hispanic channel, Mundo NFL.

As part of the new NFL Sunday Ticket deal, those prior carriage rights have been extended.

The NFL is hopeful that through the YouTube deals it will be able to attract and expand its fan base in global markets, as well. This will include increased content on the NFL channel, the creation of an NFL International show available on the YouTube platform, and the creation of a content creator program for select top YouTube creators, globally.

“As the ways fans enjoy NFL football evolve in a changing media landscape, partnerships with innovators like YouTube will ensure that more games are available to more fans,” stated Robert Kraft, owner of the New England Patriots and chairman of the NFL’ s Media Committee. “This partnership will grow our game for future generations and allow them to follow their favourite sport.”

Additionally, as part of the agreement, YouTube and the NFL will enable exclusive access to official content and attendance opportunities for select YouTube Creators at key NFL tentpole events, the announcement said.

YouTube is now also the presenting sponsor of both Back Together Saturday as well as NFL Kickoff Weekend. Back Together Saturday is the League’s official start to training camp when all 32 NFL clubs hold practices with club-led fan events. YouTube’s presenting sponsorship of NFL Kickoff Weekend marks the first time a League partner will have a presence from the kick-off of the season on Thursday night through the weekend games and Monday night, driving excitement for the start of the season.

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By Greg Tarr

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