Sports fans have missed out on live baseball, football, basketball, and more for nearly a month because the coronavirus pandemic has brought everything to a halt. But what else have sports fans missed out on? Try refunds from the cable television and satellite service providers.
There are reasons why you shouldn’t expect to see a break on your bill any time soon.
Cable TV service is different than streaming subscriptions
Subscribers who don’t feel they’re getting their money’s worth from Netflix or Amazon Prime can cancel their streaming service subscriptions by going online and stopping their credit card payments. It’s not that simple for cable TV and satellite service subscribers disappointed with currently non-existent live sports options.
Plans vary from provider to provider, but most customers are in a scenario in which costly sports channels like ESPN or regional sports networks carrying the local teams are part of the basic service or bundled with popular other channels on a tier. Trying to cut sports channels might mean surrendering some non-sports networks or losing service altogether.
And those who can put just the major sports channels on hold might risk losing discounts they get for bundling cable TV with internet or phone service.
The cost to cable TV systems is real
Disney is a multi-faceted entertainment power with movie studios, amusement parks, and networks. ESPN is one of its most valuable assets because nearly every cable TV and satellite provider offers the service – and pays handsomely to do so.
CNBC reported last summer that Disney charges cable TV and satellite companies more than $9 per customer to show the ESPN channels whether consumers watch them or not. The NFL Network, NBC Sports Network, MSG, and TNT are less expensive but work in much the same way. One estimate set the cost of sports content to households at between $20 and $30 a month.
Some of those costs may be broken out separately on customers’ monthly bills as “sports channels.” You can try calling your provider to request a refund for March and April (and perhaps beyond) but The New York Times recently explained why the answer from the other end of the phone will be, “Sorry, but no.”
Why there’s no relief in sight for consumers
The cable networks that normally show live sports say that they aren’t in a position to adjust their arrangements with cable TV and satellite providers unless they can claw back money from Major League Baseball, the NBA and other leagues.
“They won’t throw money at their customers when their costs of goods hasn’t changed,” said Craig Moffett of MoffettNathanson, a media research firm.
CNBC reported this week that none of the big broadcast and cable TV networks have demanded refunds or withheld payments yet. One possible reason for their reluctance is that they might not want to antagonize their business partners. Contracts with the leagues come up for renewal every few years – the NFL is preparing for its next round of bidding now – and TV executives fear being left out.
The New York Times reported that Verizon is being assertive in looking for relief but that the four major Cable TV and satellite service providers — AT&T, Charter Communications, Comcast, and Dish Network – wouldn’t provide executives for interviews on the subject.