Sports Outside the Beltway

NFL Sunday Ticket Monopoly

Gregg Easterbrook argues that Congress should investigate DirecTV’s monopoly on NFL Sunday Ticket in a TMQ essay entitled, “The Railroad Trusts, Standard Oil and Sunday Ticket on DirecTV — Congress, Why Has One of These Monopolies Not Been Busted?”

Frustration about what games you see or don’t see is nearly universal among NFL enthusiasts. Peter Kurtz of Houston reports he was in Dubai on the day of the fabulous San Diego-Cincinnati game — which could not be seen in the capital of the U.S. of A., but was shown to the oil sheiks of the Persian Gulf. Peter Staunstrup of Copenhagen reports Denmark saw the San Diego-Cincinnati game our nation’s capital was not allowed to see. Steve Panos of Toronto reports that throughout Canada, NFL Network is already on basic cable — meaning Canadian viewers get better access to NFL games, played in stadia funded by American taxpayers, than American taxpayers do.

Josh Zelechoski of Baltimore, currently living near Chelyabinsk, Russia, and working on the destruction of chemical arms of the former Soviet Union, reports he gets American Forces Network: The military channel that, as this column has documented, offers U.S. servicemen and servicewomen overseas a better choice of NFL games than do Fox or CBS here. Kevin Brady, a Foreign Service officer serving at the United States Embassy in Rome, reports he watched Bolts-Bengals on AFN, while Washington, D.C., was forbidden by NFL rules to watch that fantastic game. TMQ is very glad that servicemen and servicewomen and diplomats overseas get a great choice of the most appealing NFL contests — every year at least one airman or Marine writes me to say that a downside of coming home is he or she will lose the ability to see the best NFL contests! Why not solve this problem, NFL, by expanding choice from other nations to the United States? Consumer choice is the trend throughout the economy, so much so that even the biggest and most powerful companies have given in. Among large commercial enterprises the NFL is nearly alone in insistence that it will shove what it wants down consumers’ throats: and that is a formula for professional football to fall from its lofty perch.

This brings us to the real scandal in NFL broadcasting — not the dispute about NFLN, but that the wonderful Sunday Ticket package, which allows consumers to bypass this problem by paying to see any game, can only be seen by the lucky few with DirecTV. Friends who have DirecTV tell me it’s wonderful. But I can’t get DirecTV, and millions of others can’t either. Anyone who lives around trees or tall buildings cannot on a technical basis receive DirecTV; the phrase “anyone who lives around trees or tall buildings” describes half the United States. For example Bob Crane of Columbia, S.C., a Chicago Bears fan who tried to buy DirecTV, couldn’t because the satellite signal cannot be received where he lives. Crane writes, “I was and am still furious that even though I was willing to pay the fee to see my Bears, a monopoly deal leaves me no way to obtain the service.”

I’m not sure Congress has any business getting involved, as there is no fundamental public policy right to watch NFL games, but do think the NFL is thumbing its nose at its fans by selling exclusivity to a distributor.

I’ve subscribed to both DirecTV and NFL Sunday Ticket for the past five seasons and have truly enjoyed it. Still, I’m fortunate enough to live in a place where that’s a viable option. Further, I would likely have left DirecTV this year, owing to its lousy high definition recorder, but am not willing to give up Sunday Ticket to do so.

In terms of the package itself, the one complaint I have is that, despite the fact that I’m paying a sizable hunk of change for it, the NFL actually blacks out games if they are being shown locally on one of the broadcast channels. Not only does that make finding and recording the games somewhat more difficult, it puts me at the mercy of the league’s idiotic programming decisions. Thus, I might miss the first half hour of a game that I’m paying to see but is blacked out on Sunday Ticket if the game before it on the network runs long.

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I had Sunday Ticket in 2003 and ’04. I got to see all the games in ’03, but they implemented their insane blackout rule in my coverage area in ’04.
How can it be legal to black out a game you are PAYING to see?!
Direct TV does not offer local stations in my area. If my team, the Steelers, were on locally, I needed rabbit ears.
I live just outside the city, so the local small-town CBS affiliate is grainy, Fox is nearly non-existent.
Even with Sunday Ticket, I was not assured of catching every Steelers game, which is all I wanted.
Sunday Ticket – which advertises that you will get to see every NFL game – was not worth the money for me.

Posted by Sean | December 8, 2006 | 08:25 pm | Permalink

I just got off the phone with a DirecTV customer service representative who after telling me that next year EVERYONE who orders sunday ticket is going to be required to order Superfan as well. If she actually knows what she’s talking about that is pretty insane. Oh, and once I started complaining about how this seems the direction DirecTV is going, as far as away from thinking of the customer first, she hung up on me. And before any of you blame me for that, I didn’t even raise my voice, let alone yell, the most offensive thing I said was that she was giving me textbook responses to my issues and I wondered if she’d say the same thing if she wasn’t being recorded by her boss. Has anyone else heard anything about this….I can’t wait for the day when the DirecTV sunday ticket reign is over.

Posted by Craig | January 13, 2007 | 01:20 pm | Permalink

“Iâ??m not sure Congress has any business getting involved, as there is no fundamental public policy right to watch NFL games”

There is a law against any monopoly and DirecTV and NFL onlying selling to ONE distributor is a monopoly and is against the law. What if other broadcasts decided to do the same thing? Like the Major networks NBC/CBS/Fox/ABC all get together and decide they are only going to sell to Dishnet so if you don’t get dishnet you’ll never see you’re favorite TV shows again. Or all the Movie channels HBO/Cinnamax/Showtime all get together and decide they will only allow Cable to broadcast their movies. So now what, do we all have to have three different suppliers to be able to watch our favorite shows. Also the DirecTV/NFL deal FORCES people to either get directv or stay with directv even if they don’t like it or want it “IF” they want Sunday ticket, that is NOT FAIR business practice and it is ILLEGAL it is a monopoly, it is against the anit-trust laws. I think it is more NFL’s fault for encouraging bidding on something that should be allowed on cable, all satelite’s and available to anyone who wishes to pay for it. I think NFL should be fined and DirecTV should also be fined and Sunday Ticket should be open to ALL, just like MBA and Major League Baseball packages are available to all. It would also lower the price for all, a thing called competition..

Posted by sharon | September 9, 2007 | 11:10 pm | Permalink

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