Trapped into paying extra for cable TV sports

The Dodgers charged $8 billion for broadcast rights to their games, knowing full well that pay-TV companies would have to pass along this sky-high cost to all customers. Above, John Hartung, the studio anchor for SportsNet L.A. (Jay L. Clendenin, Los Angeles Times / February 14, 2014)

A troglodyte of a team owner got his comeuppance this week for making incredibly stupid comments about race. But let's be clear.

Racism isn't widespread among sports team owners.

Greed is.

Exhibit A: The $8 billion charged by the Dodgers for broadcast rights to their games knowing full well that pay-TV companies would have to pass along this sky-high cost to all customers.

Time Warner Cable is the Dodgers' partner in crime. It paid that whopping sum for exclusive rights to distribute the Dodgers channel to other pay-TV companies, assuming, like the team, that it would get away with sticking both fans and non-fans with an extra $4 to $5 fee every month.

The harsh reality, however, is that most Southern California pay-TV customers already are forking out big bucks for local sports that they may never watch.

Loren Price, 59, of Lake Elsinore noticed recently that the "regional sports fee" on his Verizon FiOS bill had jumped to $3.48 a month from $2.42 — a 44% increase.

The fee helps defray Verizon's cost for four channels in Southern California: Fox Sports West, Fox Sports Prime Ticket and Time Warner Cable's Lakers channel in both English and Spanish.

It doesn't include the more than $5 monthly cost of ESPN, the nearly $1 cost of the NFL Network, the roughly 40-cent charge of Fox College Sports, or any of the other sports channels that are packaged into most people's TV plans, regardless of whether they want them.

Sports channels account for roughly half of the average monthly pay-TV bill, according to industry estimates. And if you're not a sports fan, you're subsidizing those who are.

Price said he's a hockey fan and watches other sports only "if there's nothing else on." Being forced to pay for sports channels he doesn't want, he said, "is a waste of money."

I couldn't agree more. I'm not much of a sports fan myself, so I too waste big bucks on channels I neither want nor watch.

Jarryd Gonzales, a Verizon spokesman, said the FiOS regional sports fee is assessed "to address the skyrocketing incremental sports content costs associated with this popular programming."

DirecTV, the satellite company, introduced its own regional sports fee in 2012. It climbed this year to $3.63 from $3 a month, in large part to underwrite the added cost of the English- and Spanish-language Lakers channels.

A spokeswoman for Dish Network said the No. 2 satellite provider does not have a regional sports fee "at this time." A spokeswoman for AT&T said the company's U-verse service also doesn't charge a regional sports fee.

But just because such fees aren't broken out doesn't mean they're not on your bill.

I asked Dennis Johnson, a Time Warner Cable spokesman, whether the company levies a regional sports fee. He said it doesn't.

So I asked about the Lakers and Dodgers channels. How much do they cost subscribers?

"Our customers aren't charged for specific channels," Johnson replied. "The price of Time Warner Cable TV services reflects a package of channels, plus the technology and service necessary to deliver the service."

I got a different answer when I called Time Warner Cable customer service and asked where I could find the Lakers and Dodgers channels on my bill.

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