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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