Apr 30, 2020 - Sports

New York AG steps into fight over live sports TV fees amid coronavirus shutdowns

Illustration of a football bouncing off of a shattered TV screen

Illustratio: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

New York State Attorney General Letitia James has joined a growing group of critics in calling on cable and satellite TV providers to rebate pay-TV fees to consumers.

Why it matters: Her argument is that consumers shouldn't have to pay the same amount for cable and satellite packages, which include expensive sports networks, when those sports networks aren't carrying any live sports.

What she's saying: In letters to seven of the largest pay-TV providers in the U.S., James has requested that the companies "immediately prepare and provide plans to the attorney general's office for how they will provide financial relief to consumers until live sports programming is resumed."

"At a time when so many New Yorkers have lost their jobs and are struggling, it is grossly unfair that cable and satellite television providers would continue to charge fees for services they are not even providing."
— New York AG Letitia James

The state of play: James' statement has elevated the fight between cable/satellite carriers and sports networks over whether networks should be able to demand the same distribution rights fees for less live sports programming.

  • On Tuesday, the New York Post reported that Dish is looking to get out of the $80-$100 million distribution fee it owns ESPN for April broadcasting rights.

By the numbers: The average monthly cable or satellite package in the U.S. is roughly $100, with sports accounting for roughly 20% of that fee.

  • The top 10 most expensive cable affiliate fees in the U.S. are all sports channels — mostly regional sports networks — with ESPN being by far the most expensive at roughly $8 monthly.

Our thought bubble: When people pay their monthly TV bills, their money goes to distributors, like AT&T, which in turn pay networks, like ESPN, which in turn pay sports leagues for broadcast rights.

  • With live sports on hold, that chain is currently broken — and the battle over who should foot the bill has begun.
  • On top of that, these sports-less times could result in consumers gaining a better understanding what they're paying for sports programming (which is currently mostly re-runs) — something that could result in more cord-cutting.

Go deeper: The sports streaming landscape, mapped

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