Apple Eyes NFL Assets In Massive Billion-Dollar Deal

    • Apple wants NFL Media and ‘NFL Sunday Ticket’ bundled into one transaction.
    • Cash-rich tech giant has more than $200 billion on hand.

Apple is exploring an audacious plan to scoop up the NFL’s available rights with a single, multibillion-dollar deal, sources tell Front Office Sports.

The NFL is currently fielding offers for three assets: an equity stake in NFL Media, the “NFL Sunday Ticket” package for out-of-market games, and livestreaming games on mobile devices. 

Apple wants to bundle them all into one sweeping deal, said sources. That would instantly make the tech giant, which has long avoided sports, one of the NFL’s biggest business partners. 

It would send a shot across the bow of rival Amazon, the frontrunner to buy up to 49% of NFL Media (which includes NFL Network, NFL RedZone, and NFL.com) — as well as create must-see content for Apple TV+, which doesn’t have much live programming. 

“Apple is thinking very big. They want to roll them all up into one big NFL package,” said a source.  

The NFL could still maximize revenue by selling off assets like “NFL Sunday Ticket” piecemeal. That package alone could yield $2 billion to $2.5 billion

The Apple Advantage

But the NFL’s intrigued about getting into business with the world’s most valuable company, said sources. 

Apple posted record revenue of $365.8 billion in fiscal 2021. With a market capitalization of $2.7 trillion, the tech giant has more than $200 billion in cash and marketable securities on hand for possible deals. That’s more than the market capitalization of Netflix — and double the cash/marketable securities of Amazon.

Bringing Apple into the fold would make the NFL partners with two global tech leaders, as well as the more traditional Disney/ESPN, Paramount Global/CBS Sports, Comcast/NBC Sports, and Fox Corp./Fox Sports.

“I can definitely see why [Apple] would be attractive for the NFL,” said sports media consultant Ed Desser. “You do have to question Apple’s pedigree in sports: It’s not exactly their thing. But that’s the sort of thing you can buy or develop. Even Amazon, the first few years it carried ‘Thursday Night Football,’ used somebody else’s feed, not Amazon employees.”

Other Big Bidders

Still, don’t count out Amazon or The Walt Disney Co., said sources. They too need content for their streaming services as more consumers cut the cord. There’s other big, unidentified bidders also pursuing the NFL.

As Commissioner Roger Goodell said in December: “We’ve had a tremendous amount of interest from some terrific media partners, technology partners that are interested in our content, interested in our platforms, interested in everything from Sunday Ticket to NFL Network to RedZone to a lot of media assets we still have available, and we’re looking to deploy in a way that looks to the future in the next generation of media.”

While momentum is building for a deal, the league’s not likely to make a decision until summer. 

An NFL investment would give Apple access to “IP rights that are arguably the most valuable rights, not only in sports but across the entire media ecosystem,” noted media/technology executive Chris Bevilacqua. 

“The benefit to Apple or Amazon, or whoever else is interested, is having a long-term alignment with most popular programming in the U.S. It’s a marketing tool to drive all their other lines of business. If you’re Apple with all that cash, and you’re going to align with the NFL, it’s a permanent alignment if you hold all of that equity,” he added.

“That’s really where the value is. If they are ultimately trying to drive a media business with Apple TV+, they’re going to have to make big bets on content. Having live sports, especially the NFL, is a significant marketing tool, a real differentiator. It’s potentially a very strong move.”

Apple’s Move Into Sports

Apple hasn’t fully laid out its sports strategy. But the seller of 2 billion iPhones has been quietly expanding:

Apple has talked to MLB about carrying a package of baseball games in 2023. That could just be the beginning. Investment firm Wedbush wrote Apple has begun an “aggressive hunt” for sports rights. In coming years, analyst Dan Ives predicted Apple will spend billions on the NFL, Big Ten, Pac 12, Big East, Big 12, NASCAR, and NBA/WNBA.

The tech giant is ramping up sports documentaries. Apple bought the rights to “The Dynasty,” a 10-part documentary about the New England Patriots’ long run of success under Tom Brady and Bill Belichick. It’s also planning a four-part documentary on Los Angeles Lakers legend Magic Johnson, “They Call Me Magic.” It debuts April 22.

“Ted Lasso,” Apple’s critically acclaimed soccer comedy, has been renewed for a third season. The show is so popular it has signed a licensing deal to use some of the English Premier League’s assets.

Ultimately, cash-rich giants like Apple may forgo the process of bidding for sports rights against linear networks — and simply buy their parent companies. That way, they simply inherit existing, long-term deals. 

“That’s a faster way to market than developing everything themselves. While it’s less common with old media, it is certainly a way to do it,” Desser said. “The question would arise: Is it too much of an old-fashioned business for those in the tech industry, who are used to creating things from whole cloth and writing what will be the future, as opposed to what has clearly been the past?”

The NFL declined to comment. Apple did not return multiple messages seeking comment.