Will Sports Fans Get Refunds on Their TV Bills?

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Sports enthusiasts watch their favorite teams on subscription services through cable and streaming providers.
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If you’re one of the millions of cable or streaming TV subscribers, you’ve likely been paying for sports content you’re not getting because of the coronavirus pandemic.

If so, you’re probably wondering about — or perhaps demanding — some of your money back.

From basketball to hockey and soccer to baseball, nearly every popular sports content producer in America has been affected by postponements and cancellations during the last three months. In the process, most consumers have paid for some sort of sports content that has not been delivered as promised.

Team Clark has some sports fans on staff who, like many of you, have a vested stake in seeking financial answers to this complicated situation.

We sought out information from some of the nation’s top cable and streaming sports content providers to help you understand what you can anticipate.

Will TV and Streaming Providers Provide Compensation for Canceled Sports Content?

There are two categories of sports content you may be paying for, and your odds of seeing some compensation for cancellations may depend on how you are subscribing.

You’re likely either paying for sports content as part of an overall television or live streaming package, or you are paying an additional fee for a premium sports content service. Let’s look at the scenarios for both:

Regional and National Sports Networks Included with Your TV Subscription

If you’re paying for regional sports networks as a part of your streaming or cable subscription, you’re unlikely to see any compensation.

There are a few reasons for this, but it can best be summed up with this explanation: Your television provider isn’t getting what it paid for, either. And, technically, it’s still providing the channels you paid for with your subscription.

Let’s break down the sports content food chain to better understand the flow of money:

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  • Professional and college sports leagues (NFL, MLB, NBA, etc.) own the broadcasting rights to their contests.
  • Regional and national sports networks (ESPN, Fox Sports, etc.) pay those leagues for the rights to broadcast their games.
  • Cable and streaming providers (YouTube TV, Xfinity, etc.) pay for the rights to carry those networks.
  • Subscribers of said television providers (that’s you and me) then pay for access to those providers so we can watch the networks.

That’s important to understand because, while you may be frustrated with your service provider, they are actually a customer in this process as well.

Perhaps DISH co-founder Charlie Ergen summed up the position of the cable and streaming providers best when he laid the responsibility at the feet of the sports leagues during his company’s earnings report in May:

“It starts with the league. Do they somehow give credits to the networks, to the ESPN, and the networks and so forth? And then do they give credit to us? And then we will pass it on. Absent that, that’s hard to do.”

Many of these leagues are hurting financially due to the lack of income from fans in the stands. So it seems unlikely that they’ll be able to return enough money so that individual consumers see it trickle down to them in the way of a refund or credit.

Premium Sports Content Subscriptions

If you’re paying for a streaming service such as MLB Extra Innings or MLS Direct Kick, you’re probably fully aware that your money has gone toward games that may never get played — at least not this season.

Major League Baseball, for example, was supposed to begin a 162-game season on March 26. It seems likely that only half of that season will get played, and that’s if the league and players can reach an agreement to return to play in July.

Since these are sport-specific subscriptions that are solely for broadcasting games, you’re in a much better position to get a refund for games that don’t happen. And you may also be able to cancel future payments for the service if you’re not confident any games will be played for the rest of this year.

AT&T and DIRECTV have already committed to issuing credits and extending cancellation periods for MLB and MLS packages.

Content providers seem to be in a holding pattern for leagues like the NBA, which paused its regular season in mid-March. Most NBA teams had completed approximately 80% of the season, which would leave only a small portion of the NBA League Pass subscription package hanging in the balance.

If the NBA decides to play the remaining games at a later date, customers will get what they paid for. If not, they may be entitled to a small, partial refund or credit for games that didn’t air as planned.

How Cable and Streaming Providers Are Responding

Since so many Clark readers are experiencing the same sports content-related dilemma, we decided to reach out to some of the major content providers for an official stance on refunds.

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Here’s what we found out:

Sling TV and DISH Network

When asked for comment for this story, the Sling TV public relations team referred us to the statement DISH Network co-founder Charlie Ergen made back in May.

“We fought really hard for our consumers that they have more flexibility in how they can actually subscribe for us. So a lot of our customers like regional sports, for example. They’re not required to take regional sports if they can take a lesser package that doesn’t have regional sports in it. So if regional sports [networks] lose the sports, they could downgrade that, and we make that pretty easy to do. The second thing I would say is that to the extent that the content owners credit us, we’ll pass that on to consumers.”

Ergen also said he doesn’t see monthly bills going up or down as a result of this shift in sports content. Instead, he believes that issues could either be resolved through one-time credits or as more permanent changes to content decisions.

Xfinity and Comcast

If you’re an Xfinity or Comcast subscriber, it sounds like you’ll have to continue playing the waiting game while sports leagues navigate any potential return to action this summer. But the good news is that Xfinity seems to be open to at least a partial refund to customers who’ve paid for league-specific content that got canceled.

The Xfinity public relations team issued this statement to Clark.com:

“Any rebates will be determined once the NBA, NHL, and MLB announce the course of action for their seasons, including the number of games that will be played, and of course we will pass those rebates or other adjustments along to our customers.”

AT&T and DIRECTV

AT&T’s May 26 COVID-19 update provided some good news for MLB and MLS package subscribers:

“With the professional baseball and soccer seasons postponed or suspended, our customers who subscribed to MLB Extra Innings and MLS Direct Kick will receive credits for any payments already made toward their subscription, and we have postponed future charges until we learn more from the leagues. We are also extending our cancellation policy for both products so that customers have two weeks from when the season starts (or resumes) to decide whether they want to cancel their subscription.

“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.”

Hulu Live, YouTube TV and MLB.TV

We asked for comment from Hulu Live, YouTube TV and MLB’s online streaming service, MLB.TV. At the time this article was published, these services had not responded to our inquiries. If they do, we’ll be sure to update the story.

As a paying customer of both YouTube TV and MLB.TV, I can confirm that I haven’t gotten any compensation nor any acknowledgment of potential compensation from either service.

The Potential Tipping Point Is Still Months Away

While cable companies and streaming TV services may get the benefit of the doubt for how they’ve handled things so far, they likely will not see a similar attitude this fall.

That’s because football is “king” for a majority of American sports fans.

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Many football fans prepay for premium services like the NFL Sunday Ticket and NFL RedZone channels. Others subscribe seasonally to streaming TV services primarily for access to regional and national sports networks that carry college and professional football games.

There has been adequate time to develop a smart game plan for football season: As of this writing, it’s still scheduled to begin with preseason games in August and extend through the Super Bowl in February.

Failure to charge and credit accounts properly if the coronavirus alters the schedules for these events will be much harder to justify. The way these services handle their sports customers during this time could have a long-term impact on their revenue opportunities.

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