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Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

The future of television likely rests on the winner of an intense bidding war for one of the most sought-after programming packages in America: NFL Sunday Ticket. 

Why it matters: The winner of this multi-billion-dollar battle between tech giants and traditional media companies will have an enormous advantage as premium sports content goes digital.

Driving the news: ESPN, Amazon and Apple are all reportedly in talks to buy the rights to the NFL's Sunday Ticket package, which broadcasts out-of-market games unavailable on local channels.

  • If you're a diehard Cowboys fan living in New York, for example, it's a necessity.
  • DirecTV, a satellite service that until recently was owned by AT&T, has held the rights to the Sunday Ticket package for nearly three decades.
  • Its rights expire at the end of the 2022 season, which means talks are well underway between the National Football League and various TV networks and platforms that are eager to get their hands on live sports rights.

NFL games are by far the most coveted programming for any major broadcast or sports cable network, but they're not easy to come by. 

  • Rights are typically sold in two-to-eight year packages, and can cost more than $1 billion annually. The NFL is looking for at least $2 billion per year for rights for the Sunday Ticket package, per CNBC.

The NFL has enormous leverage to solicit big bids from both traditional media networks and tech firms that are desperate to grow their subscriber numbers.

State of play: Big Tech companies are well-positioned to be competitive buyers, given their huge market caps and enormous free cash flow.

  • Amazon also has an existing relationship with the NFL, which helps it stand out from some of its Big Tech competitors. In March, it made history when it became the first streaming company to win the rights to exclusively air Thursday Night Football games.

The intrigue: The NFL may want to juice more out of a deal than just the Sunday Ticket package.

  • NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said in May that the league was exploring strategic partners to help grow its owned and operated media properties, like NFL Network, NFL RedZone and NFL.com.
  • Goodell suggested to CNBC last week that the league may want to find a single partner to both buy the Sunday Ticket package and invest in those other media properties.

Be smart: Such a deal could help the league streamline viewer options on Sundays.

  • Some fans watch their local team on local CBS or Fox affiliates, some watch their favorite team on DirecTV's Sunday Ticket package, and others follow their fantasy players on NFL RedZone, a commercial-free broadcast that's is available as an add-on through YouTubeTV and other services.

Go deeper:

Go deeper

U.S. elected to rejoin UN Human Rights Council after exit under Trump

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken. Photo: Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/Pool/AFP via Getty Images

The U.S. has been elected to rejoin on the UN Human Rights Council, the State Department announced Thursday, three years after former President Trump walked out on the panel citing bias against Israel.

Flashback: The Biden administration announced in February it planned to rejoin the council, acknowledging what it called an "unacceptable bias against Israel," but arguing that being a member would help the U.S. advance its own interests.

The startup that wants to disrupt big internet providers

Maura Losch/Axios

A new startup backed by funding from AOL founder Steve Case and Laurene Powell Jobs wants to break up broadband monopolies across the country.

Why it matters: Internet access has been crucial during the pandemic, but it's not ubiquitous, and it can be both slow and unaffordable in swaths of the country.

1 hour ago - World

Top general: China's hypersonic missile test "very close" to a "Sputnik moment"

Gen. Mark Milley. Photo: Rod Lamkey-Pool/Getty Images

Gen. Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, warned Wednesday that China's test of a hypersonic missile is "very concerning" and "very close" to the kind of "Sputnik moment" that triggered the Space Race during the Cold War.

Why it matters: The comments by America's top uniformed general underscore the depths of U.S. concerns about China's rapid military expansion and development of advanced weaponry.