Comcast plans to compensate its TV customers for canceled baseball games after the coronavirus pandemic wiped out nearly two-thirds of the major-league baseball season.
The Philadelphia cable giant expects to get money back from regional sports networks that broadcast live games and will pass along to customers credits on their bills, company officials said. It’s unclear how much customers will receive, as Comcast hasn’t received rebates from the networks yet. The credits could vary, depending on where customers live.
Comcast, like other pay TV providers, continued to charge “regional sports fees” even as the pandemic suspended professional sports. That upset customers who paid for sports channels that largely aired reruns of classic games. In Philadelphia, customers of Comcast’s Xfinity cable unit pay $8.75 a month for local sports, including professional baseball, basketball and hockey. The issue got the attention of New York’s attorney general, who called on cable and satellite TV companies to cut the fees.
Comcast, the nation’s largest cable TV company, is near the end of the sports TV food chain. The company pays regional sports networks, or RSNs, to carry their channels. In turn, regional sports networks, such as NBC Sports Philadelphia, pay the teams for the rights to broadcast games, teams that in turn pay millions of dollars to players. Xfinity charges customers regional sports fees to recoup costs.
The regional sports fee varies by market. One of the fastest-growing fees on cable bills, in Philadelphia it was $3 in 2016 and jumped an additional 6% to $8.75 this year from the $8.25 charged in 2019. The fee is usually included in several TV packages, so many customers who may not want sports still end up paying for it.
“We have consistently said that we would pass along all credits or any other adjustments we receive from RSNs to our customers,” company spokesman John Demming said in a statement.
Comcast, with more than 20 million TV customers nationwide, will offer credits based on the MLB games that weren’t played from April through June, Demming said. If the company receives adjustments from regional sports networks for other pro sports, it will pass those credits to customers too, Demming said.
The MLB, National Basketball Association, and National Hockey League suspended or delayed their seasons in March due to the coronavirus. The NBA and NHL resumed play two weeks ago, while the MLB started a shortened, 60-game season in July, less than the usual 162 games.
NBC Sports Philadelphia, which is owned by Comcast, doesn’t expect rebates from the NBA and NHL. Both leagues nearly finished their seasons before the pandemic put their games on hold.
“The rebates will be determined after the number of games played by each league this season are finalized, and we will pass along the appropriate credits or other adjustments as necessary, according to our agreements,” a NBC Sports Philadelphia spokesperson said.
A spokesperson for MLB declined comment and an official for the NHL did not return requests for comment. An NBA spokesperson said: “We are supportive of the RSNs and the teams working together on addressing any issues based on their individual deals and circumstances.”
Comcast officials told investors on July 30 that its cable revenue was slightly down after accounting for the sports credits it expects to pay customers. The cable unit’s revenue was down 0.2% to $14.4 billion during the second quarter, but would have risen 1.4% if not for the sports fee adjustments, Michael Cavanagh, Comcast’s chief financial officer, said during an earnings call. There could be additional sports fee adjustments during the third quarter, he added.
Verizon, with nearly four million TV customers nationwide, is “working with programmers to secure rebates that we can pass on to customers,” spokesman David Weissmann said.
Comcast created the regional sports fee years ago to show customers how much of their bill goes to sports, one of the biggest drivers of programming costs for pay TV companies. By itemizing the fees from the base price, cable companies can shift blame for price hikes, consumer advocates have said. The fee drew attention from customers who were stuck at home with no sports to watch.