Why should cable and satellite subscribers pay ever increasing bills, so that a small minority of viewers can watch their favorite sports teams? Sports rights fees now are in the several billions of dollars for even local teams, and those costs are passed on to every viewer, not just sports fans. A recent deal with the LA Dodgers was for over $7 billion dollars and is expected to increase the average cable bill around $3.00 a month, over and above the costs of ESPN and the other established sports networks. It has been estimated that hidden sports fees could amount for between 20 and 30% of the overall cable bill.
John Malone, one of the architects of today's cable business was quoted in a recent NewYork Times article stating that "runaway sports rights" were a "high tax on a lot of households that don't have a lot of interest in sports." He speculated that the only short term solution could be government intervention. Consumer groups have been calling for "a la carte" cable billing for several years now, and some say now is the time to make it happen. Viewers should be able to choose their channels and only pay for what they want to watch.
Congress and the FCC need to look at this issue again soon and come to a sensible solution. Billions of dollars are made by sports teams, mostly from TV rights and mostly from non fans. What are the teams doing with this money? Taking events away from free TV and moving them to pay cable, frequently on their own cable channels. We'll look at that trend in a future article.