The sports rights arms race

Reproduced from GroupM; Note: Includes properties with annual media rights over $500m and individual deals over $200m; Chart: Axios Visuals

After tomorrow's Super Bowl, the NFL will officially be able to exercise its option to exit from its current NFL Sunday Ticket deal with DirecTV, starting with the 2020 season.

Why it matters: If it does, it's expected to open the floodgates for new and bigger bids, serving as a litmus test for how much Big Tech is willing to spend to meaningfully get enter the sports streaming market.

The big picture: Years ago, the NFL turned down the highest bidder — Google-owned YouTube.

  • Thanks to their massive audiences, TV networks have secured exclusive sports rights for decades. YouTube simply didn't have the same reach.
  • The league may be more incentivized this time around to distribute the programming to tech platforms, which have growing audiences and appeal to younger sports fans.
  • And it will be the biggest sign yet of how much Apple, Amazon, Google and Facebook are willing to invest in the sports streaming business, said BTIG media analyst and managing partner Rich Greenfield.

Tech companies have won several big-ticket rights to streaming platforms over the past few years, although leagues have been reluctant to pull rights from live networks.

  • Twitter: A multi-year NBA deal to livestream single-player feeds, a three-year MLS deal for weekly games on Twitter on Saturdays, a one-year NFL deal to stream Thursday games in 2017, a multi-year PGA deal to stream free tournaments.
  • Facebook: A MLS deal to exclusively stream 2017 regular season matches in English, an MLB deal to exclusively stream 25 games in 2017, a WWE deal to stream matches for 12 weeks on Facebook Watch.
  • Amazon: A two-year NFL deal to stream Thursday Night Football games to Prime members and Twitch users, a one-year English Premier League soccer deal to stream 20 matches.
  • YouTube: Two MLS deals brokered with the Los Angeles Football Club and the Seattle Sounders, to stream a handful of their games exclusively.

Yes, but: These rights are still considered small-ball. Most of the biggest games are up for renegotiation over the next few years.

What to watch: Disney needs to divest the 22 regional sports networks it got through its acquisition of most of Fox's assets. A bidding war is expected, but Fox may have to buy them back.