Jon Cruz still remembers the days when he had to convince the NFL and other sports leagues that there was value in uploading highlights to YouTube.
Less than a decade later, it has become the home of the NFL’s out-of-market Sunday afternoon games package on CBS and Fox.
YouTube’s first season as the carrier of “NFL Sunday Ticket” begins Sunday. YouTube agreed to a seven-year contract with the league in December worth more than $2 billion per season.
“To go from small events to larger events to now where we’re bringing ‘Sunday Ticket,’ I couldn’t be happier and more excited about what we’ve been able to do in a short amount of time,” said Cruz, who is YouTube’s global head of sports partnerships.
YouTube has had an official NFL channel since 2015. It has grown to include channels for all 32 teams and 10 official league channels, including NFL Films, NFL Network and Mundo NFL.
Now YouTube takes over the consumer version of “Sunday Ticket” from DirecTV, which carried it since it started in 1994. DirecTV has a separate deal to distribute in bars, restaurants and other establishments.
The “Sunday Ticket” move to YouTube satisfied a goal for NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, who wanted to see the package go to a streaming service to be available to more fans. It averaged 2 million subscribers per season on DirecTV.
“Sunday Ticket” is available as an add-on package on YouTube TV or separately on YouTube Primetime Channels. Google said in June that YouTube TV had 5 million subscribers for its service, which includes ABC, NBC, CBS, Fox, ESPN, TNT and FS1.
NFL Network and NFL RedZone have been available to YouTube TV subscribers since 2020.
The most important question now is whether YouTube is ready for 1 p.m. EDT on Sunday, when fans will log in to stream the eight early games. Christian Oestlien, YouTube’s vice president of product, said the past few months have been devoted to ensuring outages do not occur.
In late May, YouTube TV experienced widespread outages during the first two games of the NBA’s Eastern Conference final between the Boston Celtics and Miami Heat.
“We’ve invested in a lot of infrastructure specific to ‘Sunday Ticket’ and a lot of systems to make sure that we can identify problems quickly and address them before they’re even visible to the end user. We’ve done a lot of great prep work (during the preseason games) to make sure that people’s Sundays go uninterrupted,” he said.
The most significant feature of “Sunday Ticket” will be the ability to watch multiple games simultaneously. It will also allow YouTube TV subscribers to watch their local game side-by-side with games on “Sunday Ticket” for the first time.
YouTube TV debuted multi-view during the NCAA basketball tournament in March.
“Sunday Ticket” will also include live polls and chats. Catching up on a game by watching key plays will only be available on TVs this season.
Even though “Sunday Ticket” is available to more fans, it remains pricy. YouTube TV subscribers can get it for $299 while nonsubscribers have a $399 purchase price. The NFL RedZone channel can be added to both packages for an additional $40.
The price remains high because of the size of the contracts CBS and Fox have signed with the league.
YouTube will offer discounted packages for students. Verizon is offering “Sunday Ticket” for free to new and existing customers who purchase a new phone and sign up for an unlimited plus plan.