How cable companies could make more money from me as a sports fan

After a recent move from Maryland to Connecticut, my family and I cut our cable/Internet bill substantially. We’re now paying $100 less each month than we were before the move and, unless the cable industry decides to change the way they make content available and begins offering more choices when it comes to live sports, I don’t see us moving back to a significantly more expensive package anytime soon. We prefer the freedom that comes with saving that money every month.

In our old house, we were paying about $170 for a Verizon FiOS bundle that included a land line we rarely used (the deal was cheaper if we got it), a high-speed Internet connection and an HD cable package that included HBO and Showtime, plus sports networks like all the ESPNs, NBCSN and the NHL Network. We were also on a contract that came with a fee if we wanted to cancel.

In our new place, we have a cable/Internet bill of around $59 through Comcast that will soon go up to $70-something once the introductory offer ends, and there is also no contract. With this set-up, we have the fastest Internet connection available and an economy cable package that includes local channels, the cable news networks, Disney and HBO. Basically, it has anything we might need to stay informed about weather or emergencies, plus Doc McStuffins and Game of Thrones.

But we hardly even turn on the cable box to make use of these things—it’s something extra that came with the best deal we could get on the fastest Internet connection. We watch traditional cable maybe once a month. In our new set-up, the cable box is a little like the landline we had in our old place and rarely used.

Almost everything we do now is streamed through a Roku player into our TV. We’re spending $7.99 a month for a streaming Netflix subscription and $79 annually on an Amazon Prime membership, which also gets us things like free two-day shipping on amazon.com purchases.

Between those two services, we have more content than my family has time to consume. We really could get by with only one of these services if we want to cut expenses even further. We’re getting plenty of programming for our kids, and my wife and I have a que of shows we’ll never get through. Occasionally, we rent a new release that’s not yet available through our Netflix or Amazon Prime subscriptions, either via streaming video from Amazon or on DVD from Redbox. This rental approach is often less expensive than renting movies through FiOS on-demand was.

The only thing missing is some live sports programming—and sports are big for us. My wife is a huge college basketball fan and I love hockey and baseball. But it’s simply not worth paying another $1,200 a year for us to get a handful of the networks that offer live sports which, unless I’ve missed something, you can only get by purchasing the larger cable/satellite packages. Until something changes, the days of us having ESPN, NBCSN and other networks in our home are gone.

This winter, about a month into the shortened NHL season, I subscribed to NHL GameCenter for $50 for the season (a post-lockout discount) and watched games with that through the Roku and on the iPad. I was able to catch most Washington Capitals games, except for the ones against the Bruins and the Rangers (these two teams are blacked out in our area of Connecticut—the only way to view these in-market games legally is through a cable/satellite package) and the national games on NBC Sports Network (these are blacked out for everyone on GameCenter).

We also run ESPN3 through a laptop into our TV, mostly for college basketball. For March Madness, we streamed every game from the CBS website or watched it on their tournament app on the iPad (I loved watching games this way. You’d touch the game you wanted to watch on the tournament bracket in the app and it took you to the broadcast. The NHL GameCenter app had similarly great touch-and-view features).

If I could pay to add just a few additional cable channels (ESPN, ESPN2, ESPNU, NBCSN and NHL Network), which I realize might come with a fairly steep price tag, we’d have all the sports content we’re currently missing. Or if the cable companies got together with the content providers and created a model where I can pay to stream a single game live, just as I do when I rent a streaming movie from Amazon, I’d have the sports I’m currently unable to view. Two or three times a month, I might pay to watch a sporting event through some type of pay-per-view system.

But, moving to a different system may not be good for the cable companies right now. As The Washington Post’s Timothy Lee points out, a 2006 study showed that through an a la carte cable system, “the average cable bill would fall by 15 to 20 percent, as consumers cut channels they didn’t watch very often.” And I’m sure a pay-per-view system could hurt the current cable industry as well, if content providers even agreed to it, as some consumers would move away from the expensive packages and just pay for the games they want that are unavailable within their slimmed down channel options.

Here’s the thing though. I’m no longer going to just fork over an additional $100 a month to get the pricey package that offers me the sports networks I want. I’d rather live without them and, if a game’s important enough to me, I’ll go out to watch it. I could spend $50 twice a month on food and drinks at a sports bar and have a great night out watching a game with my wife with the money we’re now saving through our lower cable bill. Some months, we’ll just pocket the $100 and spend it on something else.

If the cable companies want me to spend more money, they need to un-bundle sports and give me some options, rather than an all-or-nothing deal that currently comes with a $170/month price tag. Right now, the choice is “pay around $2,000 a year or don’t get these live sports on your TV.” There are so many ways I can get access to movies and TV shows. But with many live sporting events, you either need to be at the game in-person or pay a huge monthly cable/satellite bill in order to watch the ones you want. With all the choices we have as consumers, you’d think there would be more than two ways to pay to see a live sporting event in 2013. I’m not asking for free; I’m asking for different ways to spend my money to access a product.

While they may never again make as much from my family as they did before we slimmed down our bill, by launching alternative sports packages, cable companies would likely get some additional revenue from us. This idea may not presently be of great interest to some in the cable business, as they still have plenty of people willing to accept the cost of the current packages that offer live sports. But if enough customers cancel or reduce their package over time, models that give consumers more choices might start to look like a decent option for the industry. Until then, that extra $100 a month the cable business was getting from us goes elsewhere.

Sidenote: This may sound like a long shot, but eventually the whole cable industry as we know it could blow up and content providers like a sports network, league or a team could start selling all their content directly to customers with no blackouts. So, a fan like me could get all the Caps games through something like NHL GameCenter, even the games currently blacked out, perhaps at a higher price than packages that are subject to blackouts. Or we could subscribe to something that would allow us to stream every ACC basketball game. Currently, there’s likely too much money for leagues in the exclusive contracts they have with networks for something like this to happen. But anything is possible depending on which way consumer interest and technology takes things. Look at the way other industry models, like music, have changed.

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ESPN loves a good Tebow story, even more than a John Wall 47-point performance

No Wall, But Tebow

John Wall scored 47 points, but it’s not here (Photo: @recordsANDradio)

John Wall scored 47 points for the Washington Wizards on Monday night in the team’s 107-94 win over the Memphis Grizzlies. With that, “Wall is the first player to record at least 47 points, 8 assists and 7 rebounds in a game since LeBron James recorded 51 points, 8 assists and 11 rebounds on February 3, 2011 against the Magic,” according to ESPN Stats & Research notes in the espn.com game story.

But someone may have forgotten to relay that information on to ESPN.com’s front page news editors. Or perhaps the business model for “The Worldwide Leaders in Sports” calls for clicks and page views to sometimes come before the day’s biggest athletic accomplishments (this makes sense in some ways, but not necessarily if you want to be known as the best source for the latest top stories in sports—which ESPN and it’s parent company very well may not care about as much as maximum revenue).

As @recordsANDradio pointed out on Twitter with a picture of ESPN.com’s headlines, “there’s a Tebow story & no mention of John Wall’s 47/8/7 game.”

I found this amusing since, on Sunday night, I’d noticed a tweet from ESPN’s Darren Rovell about Tebow’s impromptu speech to an NCAA tournament team and made this comment:

And here ESPN was, 27 hours later, still plugging the Tebow story in the main headlines on their website, ahead of a great on-court performance by Wall.

Tebow generates clicks. I get it. And the Tebow speech was a unique event. But shouldn’t a big night on the basketball court come before a day-old story about a guy who attempted eight passes this past NFL season? And that’s not meant as a knock against Tebow.

I’m sure plenty of ESPN’s readers ate up that article about Tebow, which can translate into social sharing, more page views and ad revenue. I found the circumstances of the Tebow speech somewhat interesting myself when I saw Rovell’s tweet about it on Sunday.

But by Monday night, is a story like that from the day before more headline-worthy than one of the top player performances of the 2012-13 NBA season? And what does ESPN want to be known for?

The tweet that Deadspin left out

Deadspin posted a story Thursday stating, “ESPN has suspended [Bill] Simmons from Twitter for a few days after he called the Skip Bayless-Richard Sherman First Take meltdown last week awful and embarrassing.” In the piece, Deadspin’s John Koblin points out two tweets Simmons sent:

And:

My first thought after reading the Deadspin post and the tweets was that ESPN may have overreacted:

But then I looked through Simmons’ Twitter timeline and saw this tweet he sent immediately before the two linked to in that Deadspin post:

That changed my perspective a bit:

I don’t know exactly which tweet got Simmons suspended. Perhaps it was all of them put together or maybe it was just the two cited in the Deadspin post, which didn’t seem all that bad to me; they were just Simmons’ honest thoughts on the “First Take” Sherman-Bayless segment, which then got retweeted and created even more buzz about it.

But, it would seem to me that the earlier tweet—where Simmons suggested people change the station away from ESPN—is the type that could bother an employer. I imagine that if I essentially tweeted for customers to go find a different product for a while, some of my former bosses might have wanted a word with me. Would it be worthy of a suspension? Maybe. It certainly strikes me as more damaging than the two tweets Simmons sent with his thoughts on the interview.

What I don’t understand is why that tweet wouldn’t be one of the focal points for Deadspin in their article on the suspension. I looked back and found Koblin linked to it in an earlier post on Simmons’ critical tweets, where he says Simmons “started off lightly.” And Koblin does link to that older post in his one about the suspension. But unless a source at ESPN told Deadspin it was the two tweets on the segment specifically that got him suspended, I’d be looking at the one he sent right before those, where he told people to turn off the network he works for.

ESPN should want debate and chatter about their products, even if it means letting their employees be critical of them sometimes. But what they probably shouldn’t want is a guy who works for them telling his 2 million Twitter followers, “don’t watch it.”

Sidenote: Nearly every single bit of this saga seems great for ESPN and their ratings: the segment, the Simmons tweets and the suspension. They might want to look into a pro wrestling approach where they just script all this stuff.

Catholic University vs. Washington Wizards

Who will draw a bigger crowd at home tonight in DC, the NBA’s Washington Wizards as they host the Portland Trailblazers or Catholic University as they host Frostburg State? That was the topic discussed earlier on Twitter between 106.7 The Fan’s Sky Kerstein and Holden Kushner, who then provided the photo evidence:

https://twitter.com/Holdenradio/status/273943867135512576

NASCAR should fine Clint Bowyer the way the NBA did Kobe Bryant for his slur

NASCAR is looking far from impressive for the way they’ve handled an incident that occurred over the weekend, when driver Clint Bowyer said that opponent Jeff Gordon’s actions on the track made them and their fellow racers “all look like a bunch of retards.”

From sbnation.com’s Jeff Gluck:

After speaking with NASCAR officials about his part in a late-race crash and melee in Sunday’s AdvoCare 500 at Phoenix, Clint Bowyer was both angry and downtrodden over Jeff Gordon’s actions.

Bowyer, who still had an outside chance at winning the Sprint Cup Series championship entering the race, was taken out by Gordon in an act of blatant retaliation that set off a brawl between the teams.

Gordon’s retaliation, Bowyer said, “makes us all look like a bunch of retards.”

Bowyer apologized on Twitter for his use of the word and his message was less than fantastic:

I can’t imagine someone using unacceptable terms like “nigger,” “spic” or “faggot,” issuing an apology like that and it being found acceptable. Like the video at the bottom of this post explains (which is 100% worth taking 30 seconds to watch), “the R-word is the same as every minority slur…” and it needs to be treated that way.

Last year, the Los Angeles Lakers’ Kobe Bryant was fined $100,000 for using the gay slur “faggot” during a game. I’m not sure why NASCAR isn’t slapping Bowyer with a similar punishment for his insult. He was fined nothing at all by NASCAR for his actions Sunday.

Whenever someone in the spotlight uses the r-word, there’s often discussion about whether it’s really an inappropriate thing to say, since long ago it was an acceptable term for the intellectually disabled. But when people use the word the way Bowyer did, they’re not expressing it as a medical concept from a bygone era or in delicate talks about the issue; they’re using it as an insult.

The n-word wasn’t always considered a derogatory term, but it’s far from appropriate today. The r-word has gone through an evolution as well and the hurt it carries should be clear to people by now, or getting extremely close to it.

In the reader comments for a Sporting News article, “Clint Bowyer ripped by NASCAR fans for using R-word in interview,” many are pointing out that we’ve become too “politically correct” and are “over-sensitive.” But what these people fail to realize is that this isn’t about them.

There’s also a comment on that article from a father saying, “Maybe people are a bit over delicate as some have said but my son, a special needs child and MWR fan was DEVASTATED beyond belief when he heard Clint say that. That’s hard to take as a parent. There is not excuse and the 140 character or less tweeted apology didn’t seem to help when I read it to my son.”

Those who see no harm in Boyer’s words need to open their eyes to the fact that there are people with special needs who are offended by the inappropriate use of the word retarded (there’s been an entire campaign built around this). Isn’t this enough for everyone to consider its inappropriate use unacceptable, the same way other slurs are not tolerated by those with any decency?

Bowyer should have issued a more serious apology that didn’t say anything about how he “was so focused on not saying the F or the A word.” And NASCAR should be sending a message that it won’t tolerate the use of slurs, just as the NBA did with Bryant.

Until NASCAR takes action, they look just as bad as Bowyer.

 

My question for the New York Road Runners Club and Richard Finn

English: Marathon de New-York : Verrazano Bridge

English: Marathon de New-York : Verrazano Bridge (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I do not envy the organizers of the New York City Marathon and the decision they had to face this week. But a statement I read by them today isn’t the type of thing that’s going to earn any more of my sympathy.

A quote appeared in a New York Post story, “This is no way to get us up and running,” which focuses on controversial plans by the New York Road Runners Club to move forward with this weekend’s marathon, as the city continues to struggle in the wake of Hurricane Sandy:

“These are our private generators. We are not draining any resources from the city’s plan to recover,” Road Runners spokesman Richard Finn angrily insisted.

Ok, Mr. Finn, but imagine if your organization took those generators, put them toward relief efforts now and then held the marathon in a few weeks, when it will still give the economy a much needed boost and maybe an even better one if more spectators can get to the event, more NYC businesses can reopen and benefit, etc.

Why not do that, NY Road Runners? Having or not having the marathon on its scheduled date might be a tough call for your organization, but statements like this one make me wonder if you’re truly seeing the big picture.

Who needs a pep talk (or at least a good reason to bash some subpar Yankees fans)?

Yankee Stadium ALDS Game 5 crowd during the National Anthem (Photo credit: @DShulman_ESPN)

Yankee Stadium Game 5 crowd during the National Anthem (Photo by @DShulman_ESPN via Twitter)

If you’re looking for something blaming blown fan interference calls from years ago or foul poles for Orioles playoff losses to the Yankees, you might want to close your browser now. You won’t find that here.

For any of you who saw the Orioles get knocked out of the playoffs by the Yankees Friday night and who are too young to remember the last time the O’s made the postseason, I want to pass along something someone probably told me back in 1997: “There’s always next year.”

That feels great, doesn’t it? Hearing a phrase like that, after your team’s just been eliminated until April, is kind of like the punch in the gut that anyone who actually utters those words at a time like that probably deserves more than you. You can imagine how it made things not a bit easier the last decade and a half as Orioles fans watched Baltimore finish out of the race every single “next year.”

I also don’t want you to forget what my mom told me in 1983. I was 8 years old and had a ticket to Game 6 of the World Series between the Orioles and the Phillies at Memorial Stadium in Baltimore. The Orioles won it in five, in Philly. I sobbed, happy they’d won but disappointed I wouldn’t get to see a game.

As part of her effort to cheer me up, my mom explained that there would be other Orioles World Series games to go to. Next October will mark the 30th anniversary of what was a great pep talk at the time from a truly fantastic mother; I would have told my kid the same thing, especially given the club’s history of success at that point. But, the total number of Orioles World Series games that have been played since that day stands at zero.

If none of this is making things better, you can at least take comfort in the fact that Yankees fans are people too and Friday night’s game meant a lot to them, so much in fact that 40,000 or so of them weren’t in the stadium for the start of the game. Maybe they were waiting until the last minute to see if they could sell their tickets to someone else—well, 20% of them at least.

Some Yankee fans will blame traffic for their home field being a ghost town for the first few innings Friday evening. If only that city had a mass transit system large and efficient enough to motivate people to leave their cars at home! Oh, the traffic! The horrible traffic—in a city with enough Yankee fans that don’t even own cars to get stuck in traffic with, that they could fill The House That Jeter Built (and then likely complained to an umpire about) multiple times over.

Another excuse is that the real Yankee fans have been priced out of the new stadium. That’s a valid concern, but were they priced out of all those tickets to Game 5 that other “fans” were dumping for around $20 on StubHub?

Some New Yorkers will also say it’s too hard to leave work a few hours early on a Friday. It’s funny how a weekend in The Hamptons is reason enough for that, yet the final game of a first round playoff series no longer is.

I say “no longer” because it’s beginning to look like some Yankees fans have become so spoiled by their team’s success that the deciding game in a first round playoff series just isn’t enough for them anymore. It’s a shame how doing well year-after-year-after-year, and watching teams filled with almost any megastar management feels like signing, will beat you down like that. Maybe being one of the final four fan bases out of 30 with a team still in the race will inspire more Yankees fans to make the ALCS games important, unlike that good-for-nothing ADLS Game 5 that Major League Baseball had the gall to schedule at 5 p.m.

The one set of Yankee fans I don’t blame for not making Game 5 attendance a priority are the people who’ve jumped on the team’s bandwagon in cities across America that are too far away for them to realistically make it to Yankee Stadium. Like that guy on the west coast who has no ties to New York whatsoever yet wears that Yankees cap because the colors are cool and roots for them as soon as he hears from a friend that they’ve made the World Series again. I don’t blame that guy or the thousands like him at all. Those guys out there are doing great work and were never following most of the games (or the fact that baseball season has started) anyway.