Apple NFL deal killed by price disagreement and rights for VR streaming

Apple TV 4K
(Image credit: iMore / Stephen Warwick)

New information has revealed why Apple and the NFL couldn't reach a deal over Sunday Ticket, a package that is now likely headed to rival Google and its YouTube platform. 

It emerged earlier this week that Apple was no longer in the hunt for NFL Sunday Ticket, currently one of the most sought-after rights packages on the market. 

A new report from The Athletic (opens in new tab) reveals three main sticking points that saw the deal stall, including a disagreement over the price and problems with rights for other platforms such as VR.

What killed the Apple NFL deal?

Firstly, Apple was apparently lowballing the league. "Apple reportedly wanted to pay less than the NFL sought so it could offer the product at lower prices than incumbent DirecTV, but the NFL’s contracts with Fox and CBS disallowed that," Daniel Kaplan reports. 

Secondly, Apple's rivals were repeatedly seen to have a more robust media strategy. "Also, Google’s media strategy is more robust than Apple’s, with YouTube TV a growing digital multi-channel platform, and YouTube itself with 2.5 billion monthly users."

One source close to the NFL said other tech companies are "far more advanced in where they are with their business model for media, for broadcasting" and that Apple was "really behind" in this regard, perhaps highlighted by its rocky attempt to broadcast live MLB games on Apple TV Plus earlier this year. 

Another sticking point was apparently rights over "non-existent platforms," namely AR and VR, with Apple seeking "unknown rights" so that it could broadcast games on other platforms such as its rumored Apple VR headset in the near future. The report states that "Apple wanted what is dubbed known and unknown rights, individuals familiar with the NFL and Apple said. In other words, there is no known virtual reality market for Sunday Ticket, but there might be one day."

A former Fox Sports Exec told the outlet that Apple and the NFL "never got on the same page" and that Apple "kept learning things" through negotiations "like, ‘Well, we want to do a five-year term.’ ‘No, you have to do a 10-year term.’ ‘We want worldwide rights.’ ‘No, you can’t have those.’ ‘We need some exclusivity.’ ‘No.'”

It's a sad end to what could have been a major boon to Apple TV Plus, which is really lacking in good live sports content. The NFL could have been a massive draw to the service. Apple will at least have all MLS games exclusively streamed through Apple TV from February for the next 10 years, with prices starting at $12.99 a month during the season for TV Plus subscribers. 

Stephen Warwick
News Editor

Stephen Warwick has written about Apple for five years at iMore and previously elsewhere. He covers all of iMore's latest breaking news regarding all of Apple's products and services, both hardware and software. Stephen has interviewed industry experts in a range of fields including finance, litigation, security, and more. He also specializes in curating and reviewing audio hardware and has experience beyond journalism in sound engineering, production, and design.

Before becoming a writer Stephen studied Ancient History at University and also worked at Apple for more than two years. Stephen is also a host on the iMore show, a weekly podcast recorded live that discusses the latest in breaking Apple news, as well as featuring fun trivia about all things Apple. Follow him on Twitter @stephenwarwick9