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Games galore: 25th season for DirecTV’s NFL Sunday Ticket

September 2, 2018
Archie Manning, Eli Manning, Peyton Manning

FILE - In this May 8, 2008, file photo, Archie Manning, center, is joined by sons Eli Manning, left, and Peyton Manning in Beverly Hills, Calif. When Archie's sons, first Peyton in 1998 and then Eli in 2004, broke into the NFL, all he had to do was sit in his favorite chair and turn on DirecTV's Sunday Ticket. (AP Photo/Reed Saxon, File)

When Archie Manning was playing pro football, his family and friends had to scramble to see his games. Sort of like what Manning had to do behind the Saints’ sieve of a line.

When his sons, first Peyton in 1998 and then Eli in 2004, broke into the NFL, all Archie had to do was sit in his favorite chair and turn on DirecTV’s Sunday Ticket.

The satellite television provider’s most successful sports package — when AT&T spent $47 billion to purchase DirecTV in 2015, the deal was predicated on having the broadcast rights to Sunday afternoon NFL games — heads into its 25th season.

It has well over 2 million subscribers. It doesn’t come cheap: The price for the most-inclusive Sunday Ticket Max that has Red Zone and a fantasy football channel is close to $400, which has drawn complaints from subscribers.

Then again, there’s access to all those games, meaning a Giants fan living in Marco Island on the Florida Gulf Coast can see all of Eli he wishes. Or a Packers fan living in the Arizona desert gets his fill of Aaron Rodgers, and so on.

Plus all the bettors and fantasy players out there can watch their choices in action.

“It’s pretty unbelievable that more than 20 years ago when I was introduced to it, Peyton was going into the NFL, and we are not one of these parents that try to go to the games every weekend,” Archie says. “So we could watch on TV and were able to do that from New Orleans.

“And then when Eli came into the league, we could get his games. Otherwise, we would not be able to pick up all the Colts and Giants games. Having two sons playing on Sunday when Eli came along, it was just great to have Sunday Ticket.”

It’s been a boon for the NFL, whose ratings, like all other sports, have shrunk on network television. Having the satellite package that brings in $12 billion over eight years makes DirecTV a key broadcast partner, as well as a place for innovation.

“I feel that NFL Sunday Ticket’s biggest impact is it created a new standard,” says Brian Rolapp, the league’s chief business and media officer. “All other sports have emulated in one form or another an out-of-market package; it’s now an expected component of any sports media offerings. As a result, sports fans have benefited immensely, as in this day and age they are afforded the opportunity to watch the sport or the team they love regardless of where they live. To me, that’s what it’s all about.

“There is no question that making all of our Sunday afternoon games available to fans — regardless of what market they are in — has helped increase the popularity of the league. It allowed us to make Sunday afternoon football national while not compromising the regionalized, free over-the-air games (that are blacked out on DirecTV in those local markets).”

The Mannings often have been called the “First Family of Football.” Certainly Peyton and Eli — and to a lesser extent, Archie and wife Olivia — have been Sunday Ticket’s first family.

Peyton first hit the commercials scene for DirecTV in 2001, three years after four future Hall of Famers — Troy Aikman, Jerry Rice, Brett Favre and John Elway — did the initial spot for Sunday Ticket. Peyton became a regular in 2003 and was joined by Eli in 2007.

Some of those ads — “Displaced Fan Syndrome,”“Football Cops,”“Football On Your Phone” — have become YouTube sensations, in part because they put the Manning brothers in such unexpected and hilarious roles. Archie even got to join the fun when two of those spots were filmed in New Orleans.

“I was ready to have a back fusion and it was going to be (filmed) the next week,” Archie says of one of the commercials. “I told them: ‘I can’t stand up.’ They got me into it somehow.

“Eli kind of carried those commercials, especially the rap one — I still get people talking to me about ‘Football On Your Phone.’”

Archie then sings that phrase just as Peyton and Eli did.

For Eli, stepping so out of character was tantamount to him becoming a scrambling quarterback.

“The ones with my brother were pretty special,” he says. “The most nervous was for “Football On Your Phone,′ the rap video. Being dressed up like Timberlake in 1999 in New Orleans, that’s a little out of my element. It had a shock effect on a lot of people and that made it fun.

“Peyton and I were both making fun of each other and trying to sing that rap, and just how bad I knew I was sounding. We definitely had to sing it; they put us in a sound booth, and there were a lot of repeats of us trying to get the right pitch and everything going. It was pretty amazing what they can do with some of technology today.”

Well, if DirecTV can make rap stars out of Brothers Manning, coming up with Red Zone had to be a snap. Archie says he “really loves red zone.” Apparently, so do subscribers and the folks watching in restaurants.

“Innovations have included the invention of Red Zone, the concept of which has been widely copied by other leagues and networks like ESPN; Game Mix channels, where fans can watch four to six live games at once,” says Dan York, AT&T senior executive vice president and chief content officer.

“In addition to celebrating the 25th season, we will also hit another tremendous milestone: broadcasting our 5,000th game.”

Way back when the first games were being televised by DirecTV, it wasn’t exactly a huge conglomerate getting the telecasts on the satellite network. The product launched in 1994, the same year as satellite service but only a partial season of Sunday Ticket was available, beginning in November. Compared to now, the telecasts were rudimentary.

“I started in 2000, and back then NFL Sunday Ticket was standard definition only, no channel mix, no Red Zone or Fantasy Zone,” says Catherine Pack, assistant VP of video operations for AT&T. “The way the signals were delivered to us, we were in communication with the folks the NFL hired in Stamford, Connecticut who were at the time responsible for running commercials for the NFL, and we had 30-second to 1-minute break positions we had to cover. It took an army then, and an even larger one now.”

Nowadays, many NFL fans sit down on Sunday afternoons, turn to the channels numbered 700 and higher on DirecTV, and gorge on football. Count Archie Manning among them, of course.

At times, he might get distracted by a certain two-time Super Bowl winner who lives in Denver texting him about what they are watching. But that’s part of the pleasure, too, Archie says.

“Peyton is fun to watch football together with,” he says. “We watch college football a lot, or we watch pro games. “When Eli’s game is not on, a lot people think I just watch the Saints, but I kind of keep up with everything.”

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