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Is the NFL on the verge of joining the 21st century and streaming out of market games?

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NFL: Houston Texans at New York Jets Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

For the last twenty-five years DirecTV has been the exclusive home of the package to watch out of market NFL games, Sunday Ticket. While DirecTV’s current contract runs through 2022, the league has the option to opt out of the exclusive deal after this season.

Earlier this week Awful Announcing did a good job breaking down the situation.

The NFL has the ability to opt-out of their exclusive agreement with DirecTV after this season with a contract that is slated to run through the 2022 season. With the NFL expanding their ever-growing television universe thanks to Thursday Night Football and partnerships with streaming platforms like Twitter and Amazon. And already, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell has signaled that a similar multi-platform arrangement could be in Sunday Ticket’s future where it’s shared on a traditional television platform as well as a streaming one.

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With the NFL’s opt-out deadline approaching, we’re finally starting to see some of the first concrete details start to emerge on where the talks are heading. While it’s behind a paywall, Sports Business Journal reports from the NFL owners meetings that the NFL has only heard interest from streaming platforms like ESPN+, Amazon, and DAZN on a Sunday Ticket deal.

Awful Announcing goes on to note these platforms are not willing to pay the type of money DirecTV is giving the league at this time. Still, this seems like a positive development for NFL fans.

Over the last few years people have paid an inordinate amount of attention to the NFL’s television ratings over the last few years, but I think this focus misses a larger point. The league has fallen way behind the times in the way it presents its games.

When Sunday Ticket was created it was a revolutionary product. It is difficult to describe how novel the concept was back in 1994. You used to get whatever games were shown locally and had no opportunity to watch other contests. If you moved away from your local team’s area, you were out of luck. If you were a Jets fan in the New York area who wanted to watch a critical NFC game at the same time the Giants were playing it was too bad for you.

We are now at the point where most sports are accessible at any time on a smartphone or tablet. The other leagues all have packages for fans to stream out of market games. The NFL remains stuck in a model where three regional games are shown each Sunday afternoon on broadcast television. If you want to see an out of market game, you have to be a DirecTV subscriber. DirecTV does have a streaming version of Sunday Ticket, but eligibility requirements are tight.

While almost everybody else has tried to put their games in front of as wide of an audience as possible, the NFL has done everything within its power to create obstacles for fans who want to watch its games.

Perhaps we are seeing signs the league is finally prepared to enter the modern age.