Cable Customers Have Paid $3.5 Billion For Sports They Can't Watch

from the money-for-nothing dept

Despite the pandemic suspending most major league sports play, cable TV consumers continue to pay for programming they can’t watch.

For fifteen years or more, consumers have complained about the high cost of sports programming. That’s particularly true for consumers who don’t watch sports, but are often forced to pay the sky high prices for sports programming as part of a bloated cable bundle anyway. One survey, a few years ago, found that 56% of consumers would ditch ESPN in a heartbeat if it meant saving the $8 per month subscribers pay for the channel. The “regional sports fees” tacked on to subscriber bills have also long been a point of contention because they’re often used to help falsely advertise a lower rate.

NY Attorney General Letitia James recently fired a warning shot over the bow of the industry, calling on seven major cable TV providers to begin offering refunds for nonexistent programming:

“At a time when so many New Yorkers have lost their jobs and are struggling, it is grossly unfair that cable and satellite television providers would continue to charge fees for services they are not even providing. These companies must step up and immediately propose plans to cut charges and provide much needed financial relief. This crisis has brought new economic anxiety for all New Yorkers, and I will continue to protect the wallets of working people at every turn.”

This being the cable TV industry, the requested refunds haven’t happened. AT&T (DirecTV) has let some users get refunds for premiums sports subscriptions (MLB Extra Innings and MLS Direct Kick), but none of the seven cable providers singled out by James appear to have changed their policies in the slightest or offered any refunds whatsoever. In a statement, AT&T makes it pretty clear that because broadcasters aren’t likely to give it a break, consumers won’t be getting a break either:

“We continue to monitor the situation closely and are in contact with programmers and sports leagues as they plan their next steps. Any rebates we receive from programmers and sports leagues will be provided to our customers.”

That’s generally been the same line trotted out by cable providers like Spectrum, which are quick to point out that there are layers of complicated contracts at play and more than a lot of uncertainty as to what happens next. And while that’s certainly true, we’re not talking about pocket change here. One recent analysis estimated that pay-tv subscribers have paid almost $3.5 Billion in cable fees over the last two months for live sports that never happened:

“…there are around 86.5 pay-TV households in the United States. On average, each of these households pays around $20 per month in fees for sports programming. That means pay-TV subscribing households in the US pay about $1.73 billion per month in fees for sports programming. And with two months of no live sports thus far, that means pay-TV companies like Comcast and AT&T have received nearly $3.5 billion in fees for sports programming that features no live sports.”

Somebody has to eat those costs, and congratulations, it’s going to be you, the end consumer. How long this goes on is uncertain, but with the FCC asleep on consumer issues, it’s unlikely the federal regulator will help. Fortunately (unlike the broadband sector), the rise in streaming competition means users have options. Cord cutting was already setting records in 2019, and with Sports being the only thing keeping users subscribed to traditional cable, cord cutting is expected to soar to even greater heights thanks to COVID-19.

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Comments on “Cable Customers Have Paid $3.5 Billion For Sports They Can't Watch”

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Jeffrey Nonken (profile) says:

"…there are around 86.5 pay-TV households in the United States. On average, each of these households pays around $20 per month in fees for sports programming. That means pay-TV subscribing households in the US pay about $1.73 billion per month in fees for sports programming."

Wait, we had word problems in elementary school. I admit it’s been a while, but… 86 and a half times 20 gives me $1,730.00 total, not almost 2 billion. Maybe my calculator is broken? And the ROI for under 100 households hardly seems worth it.

I think there are a few decimal places missing. Just sayin’. 🙂

Anonymous Coward says:

All I can say is SUCKERS!!!!! I cut the cord about 10 years ago and haven’t looked back. I have more stuff to watch than ever before. Too much in fact. As I keep saying, you can’t miss what you can’t watch.

Also, don’t waste your time signing up for all these streaming services. Stick to 1 or 2 and that’s it!!! I get all my Broadcast TV from the Antenna, except I can’t seem to get FOX in which, well I haven’t missed all that much. But I do get quite a few channels. I can DVR on my Tivo and watch in other roams on my TIVO Mini’s, but I have a backup of using a HDHomerun with PLEX which can allow me to also record up to 4 shows at once. I can watch content from that anywhere there is PLEX. So any of my TV’s or phone/tablet, Desktop, etc. There are a lot of options these days to DVR Antenna content.

It may work for you to sign up for one service for a month, then quite and sign up for another service for another month and quit and then another for the next and so on and so on. There may be a series on Desney+ or HBO Max, or Netflix, or Amazon, maybe CBS All Access. Wait for the series to end or about to end in a week or 2 and then sign up, Binge Watch that season, and anything else for that month, then Cancel and move onto a new service to binge-watch the season that is on that service. So you figure out what is the best month for the shows you want to see for each service.

You can only watch so much per day, so it’s a waste to be signed up to everyone. Or just a bunch. Antenna and Netflix is quite a bit of content. maybe throw in one of these other services for a month. Maybe some months you skip and it’s only Netflix. or maybe some other streaming service is the daily goto one you use.

Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile) says:


Something physical that one participates in and vies to excel at. It is not required, nor is it applicable to all, nor does it, nor should it denigrate non participants.

That some sports become competitive at an inter, oh I don’t know league, faction, team, school, division, is great. That it needs to be, or that it is commoditized is a crying shame. That the middlemen (broadcasters or leagues or associations or god forbid team owners, or schools, or international organizers or whatever) profit in any way at all is just a really sad state of things.

Banishing sports is the wrong thing. Banishing the rest is the right thing. Getting those who wear the spotlight well to agree with the above is a very serious problem. Some organization is probably needed. Monetization is not. Supporting athletes to train for competition is needed, so is supporting those that cannot compete, or just don’t do sports.

Where do we go from here?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Sports and Tweeting!

Retired Judge John Gleeson told a federal appeals court on Wednesday that President Donald Trump’s tweets in support of former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn are part of the reason charges against Flynn should not be dropped.

I say Imprison Him for being the Subject of Big Orange’s Tweets!

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Sports

Some organization is probably needed. Monetization is not.

Of course monetization is not "needed" (unless, of course, you’re "supporting athletes to train for competition", because that takes money.) But if 50,000 people are willing to pay $150 for a ticket to a football game 8 times a year, of course someone is going to monetize it. Why wouldn’t they?

David says:

Imagine being at the grocer

"Why is there flour on my bill?" "Well, you asked for it." "I didn’t." "Well, it’s included in our pricing on the assumption that you’d ask for it anyway." "But there isn’t even any flour in my basket!" "Well, it’s currently unavailable. That’s not our fault. But you didn’t want it anyway, so why should you get a rebate when not getting it?"

Anonymous Coward says:

Sports? Life is ALIENATING!

In US society, life is alienating. Sexuality is stripped of its
expressive and loving qualities, and institutionalized in marriage, prostitution
or pornography. Sexuality is denied its human content, and is offered for
sale. Art, too, is a commodity, something to be bought and sold. So are
games and sports —no longer human exercises for the fun and development
of people, but big business, packaged and programmed. The alienation of life
is an ongoing explosive condition of our times.

Come join us! We have sports! BRING FOOD! We’re Hungry!

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Sports? Life is ALIENATING!

Not from Seattle and I support the BLM movement, but i have a Bachelor’s degree in history and political science and I’m a gambling sorta guy. Anybody wanna take bets on how long this autonomous zone will last? Definitely shorter than Free Derry in Ireland, but how short?

Do these people have enough resources to sustain themselves? If not, do they have a supply line? Is there established leadership, or is it more like a commune? Do they have an ultimate goal or is this closer to "Occupy Wall street?" First aid is good, but do they have access to medicine and healthcare? Are they actually fighting the police, or are they intimidating them with their numbers? Are there any suspect groups you’re gaining support from? (i.e. Nazis, ISIS, etc.)

And on the police side: Do you have support from the surrounding community? Are you planning a long siege, or a quick, hard push? Do the protesters have demands and are you able to meet those demands? Will the protesters actually leave after those demands are met? Are you in negotiations with the leadership, if there is any?

My initial guess, at BEST the protesters have one week for the cracks to show, 2 weeks they will have lost most of the area aside from one building. But that’s if they don’t have their shit together. Any other guesses?

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

If only we had that magical free market thing they keep talking about us having, when it is clear we don’t to anyone with eyes, people could pick a provider that only gives them what they wanted without all of the bloat.

Consumers no longer give 2 shits about your complicated contracts and such, perhaps its time to push back against the providers & channels and explain the idea that 56% of our consumers don’t want ESPN… so why do you demand so much & make deals forcing us to carry content no one wants to have access to other content.

Anonymous Coward says:

My dad willingly keeps paying for the cable package with the basic sports channels so he can watch re-runs of baseball games. Sure he’d like to be watching live, but he is willingly and knowningly paying for re-run games. I think it’s insane but there are people out there who are actually paying for sports intentionally right now.

Anonymous Coward says:

"layers of complex contracts"

Well, that’s what you get paid the big bucks for, dipshit. If you would have stopped this crap 20 years ago, it wouldn’t be such an "emergent" problem now, would it? You had no problem separating out documentary / factual channels (like, back when they were actually those things and hadn’t yet morphed into dreck) into pricey add-ons. Could have been the same with sports since ages. Or, you know, you could have let the customer swap one for the other. Aw, hell, just fuck you. Fuck you and your business models.

Anonymous Coward says:

this problem lies fair and square in the lap of the greed y bastards in government. had they done their job and reeled in companies that were behaving like this even before they had the opportunity instead of worrying about how much they can cream off of the various companies things wouldn’t have happened. if the FCC had been forced to do it’s job rather than worrying the same, about what it can do for the same companies, things wouldn’t have happened! but then i have to remember that the USA is the land of opportunity! what i failed to remember was how the opportunity is government members stitching up the very people they are supposed to represent, supposed to protect making the ‘land of opportunity’ for the very few, from the many then, when there is a chance of things tipping a little towards the people, bringing in new laws, ramping up old ones, doing whatever they want so as to carry on screwing the people!!

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