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DirecTV secures NFL Sunday Ticket deal vital to AT&T merger

The deal also expands the partnership to include Sunday Ticket live on mobile devices, likely to be a key promoted feature for AT&T.

Screenshot by Joan E. Solsman/CNET

DirecTV and the National Football League will remain BFFs.

The satellite TV company and the NFL said Wednesday that DirecTV would continue to be the exclusive provider of Sunday Ticket, which provides its customers with access to all out-of-market NFL games on Sunday.

DirecTV's deal with the NFL for a Sunday Ticket package is so vital to the service that AT&T's proposed $48.5 billion merger with the company could have been scuttled if it had fallen through. AT&T included an option to walk away from the DirecTV deal if the satellite provider failed to renew the exclusive NFL agreement.

Sunday Ticket will likely play a key role in AT&T's plans to bundle its nationwide mobile service with DirecTV's nationwide TV service. The announcement includes a specific reference to extending Sunday Ticket's streaming rights to mobile devices and via broadband. That could be a key exclusive feature that AT&T could bring to its smartphones and tablets.

Verizon has the rights to air home football games to its mobile devices under its NFL Mobile service, which is free to its subscribers. The rights were part of a broader sponsorship deal with the NFL.

Sunday Ticket, meanwhile, is a key driver of DirecTV's subscriber growth and customer loyalty. It's also one of the reasons DirecTV is seen as the premium satellite TV option over rival Dish Network.

AT&T had agreed to acquire DirecTV in May, with a deal expected to close within the next 12 months. One of the hanging issues when the deal was announced was the fate of Sunday Ticket.

"DirecTV's renewal of its agreement with the NFL to carry the Sunday Ticket package satisfies this condition in our merger agreement with DirecTV," AT&T said in a statement.

In late August, DirecTV was close to a deal with the NFL for a Sunday Ticket package that would increase its average annual rights fee to between $1.3 billion and $1.4 billion over the next decade, according to a report by Sports Business Journal. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

AT&T shares slipped 0.8 percent, to $34.96. DirecTV shares inched up 7 cents, to $86.59.