DirecTV will refund NFL Sunday Ticket subscribers who cancel due to player protests and possibly for other protest and protest-protest-related reasons

This afternoon, the WSJ reported on a new policy under which AT&T’s DirecTV, the exclusive provider of the NFL Sunday Ticket package that allows viewers to watch out-of-market NFL games otherwise unavailable due to the league’s regressive approach to broadcast rights, will grant user refunds:

DirecTV is allowing at least some customers to cancel subscriptions to its Sunday Ticket package of NFL games and obtain refunds, if they cite players’ national anthem protests as the reason for discontinuing service, customer service representatives said Tuesday.

Under Sunday Ticket’s regular policy, refunds are not to be given once the season is underway. But the representatives said they are making exceptions this season—which began in September—because of the controversy over the protests, in which players kneel or link arms during the national anthem.

Mark Hoffman, a longtime subscriber to Sunday Ticket, which gives sports fans the ability to watch every Sunday game, said in an interview he was able to cancel his subscription on Monday. The package costs around $280 per-season.

“I honestly didn’t think I’d get a refund,” Mr. Hoffman said. “I know their guidelines, I just wanted to make a point.” Mr. Hoffman, a former business editor at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, said he made his case successfully to a customer service representative after sitting through a recording saying cancellations weren’t an option.

Intrigued, I wondered whether DirecTV would offer refunds to subscribers who want to cancel because of the historic rise in penalty calls that is making this season’s games nearly unwatchable. And what about those who now want to cancel in protest over DirecTV’s policy of providing refunds to subscribers who cancelled to protest the players’ protest? According to DirecTV, all of those options may be on the table:

directv nfl sunday ticket protest

I generally support any policy under which users can receive refunds for sports-broadcast services they’ve already purchased, and the more absurd and tangential the reason for the refund request, the better.

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Just in time for the end of the MLB season, the best baseball TV show is live on the internet

starting 9 brian wilson

To be fair, there isn’t a large volume of competition in the daily live MLB television show category. By my count, the established programs are MLB Network’s “MLB Tonight,” FS1’s “MLB Whiparound,” and ESPN’s “Baseball Tonight,” all of which essentially compete to be the first choice in baseball wallpaper.

Enter “Starting 9,” a Barstool Sports production that debuted last week and already has surpassed all of its major-network competitors in every facet. None of those shows sniffs the “appointment-viewing” descriptor, which applies to “Starting 9.” It’s the perfect show for baseball fans in both content and delivery. The show airs live Sunday through Thursday at just the right time– 11:00 pm on weeknights, right after East-Coast games have ended, and 6:00 pm on Sunday, between the end of the afternoon games and the start of the primetime ESPN game– and runs for just the right length of time, about twenty minutes per episode. Adding to the convenience is the fact that “Starting 9” streams on Facebook Live and Periscope, allowing the audience an easy second-screen viewing setup.

Although it’s a web-based show, “Starting 9” looks like a show you’d see on a big sports television network thanks to shiny graphics (the 1990s Donruss baseball card visual reference is a particularly nice touch) and a license to air MLB game highlights. “Starting 9” isn’t on a big sports television network, though, which means its hosts– Jared Carrabis; former Oakland Athletic and ESPN broadcaster Dallas Braden; and, at least for the first week, former San Francisco Giant Brian Wilson– are uncensored and unfiltered, leading to a much more natural conversation. It’s everything PTI is supposed to be but never can be.

The hosts have an easy rapport that flows from the homonymous podcast Carrabis and Braden began hosting a month ago, which featured the not-shy Wilson as its first guest. Carrabis has been writing about the Boston Red Sox and baseball generally at Barstool for years, and the site hired Braden (who once pitched a perfect game, in case you hadn’t heard) after ESPN cut him loose in their big round of layoffs this spring.

The show’s first week demonstrated an impressive ability to synthesize the day’s baseball stories, some of which happened just moments before the show went live, into a well-rounded blend of on-field highlights, fan interactions, and other news and happenings that ranges from the serious to the silly.

The benefits a live show were on display during last night’s episode, in which Carrabis and Braden were able to discuss J.D. Martinez’s four-homer game, which was happening during the show.

Last night’s episode also was the first without Wilson, whose absence was noted at the opening. It will be a small disappointment if he is not a regular part of the show going forward, as appears to be the case, since he provides a good compliment to Braden, who can be a little too bombastic at times.

One thing that does not seem to be a problem for “Starting 9” is audience size. Facebook Live viewership during the first week hovered between eight hundred and 1,200 at a given moment, and the Periscope numbers were bigger: I saw anywhere 50,000 to over 100,000. The episodes remain archived on Facebook and the Barstool site itself as well, convenient for those who aren’t able to watch live.

Although the 2017 regular season is nearly over, I suspect that “Starting 9” will continue in some capacity during the playoffs, and I look forward to having it as a part of my baseball routine in the future.

Saving Detroit: A bad time for a bad season

For the Detroit Tigers, dark clouds have been looming on the horizon for long enough that a down season like the one they’re having now (57-73, .438) has not come as a complete surprise. That this was, in some sense, foreseeable– even if not entirely avoidable– doesn’t necessarily make it more palatable.

It’s no mystery that one of the Tigers’ most significant structural issues is the fact that they have a lot of their payroll resources tied up in a few large, long-term contracts with older players who are past their respective primes. As I observed at the beginning of last season, though, 2018 represents an important break point in the team’s present financial structure. There are two reasons for that: 1) some of those large contracts come off the Tigers’ books in 2018, and 2) the team’s current television deal with Fox Sports Detroit expires. It’s that second part that holds real financial potential:

Baseball might not grip the nation the way it once did and the way football now does, but the sport is extremely popular on a local level, making teams’ local broadcast rights as valuable as ever. The increasing price of these contracts means that the only thing better than a rich television contract is a new television contract. New television contracts are the things of which dreams are made– assuming you dream of signing a Zack-Greinke-caliber player or two.

Thus, the good news for Detroit: right about the time things could start to get ugly, payroll-wise, the team will be signing a new TV deal. Their current agreement, with Fox Sports Detroit, expires in 2018. As this Crain’s Detroit Business article highlights, the team has a few options, including negotiating an extension with FSD. It also could attempt to negotiate an ownership stake in whichever broadcast network it partners with going forward, something roughly half of the MLB clubs have done.

Team ownership and management may be seeing dollar signs after watching their rivals receive massive broadcast deals worth a billion dollars or more. Here is a portion of a FanGraphs table from 2016 showing the value of all of the MLB team television contracts signed since the Tigers executed their current TV contract in 2009:

mlb tv contracts

Of those teams for which the contract value is known, only Cleveland, Minnesota, and Colorado have reached television deals paying them less than a billion dollars, and all of the MLB television contracts signed since 2014 have been for at least $1 billion. Tigers leadership undoubtedly will be pointing to all of those recent deals in the negotiations with FSD (or another potential broadcast partner).

The bad timing of the team’s on-field struggles comes into play here too, though. After a decade of top-tier competitiveness, the 2017 Tigers won’t even sniff the wild-card chase, and everybody knows it. That probably explains why no team saw a larger relative drop in television ratings this season:

In terms of actual ratings, this isn’t the catastrophe it might appear to be, as the Tigers had been performing well, ratings-wise, in recent years. The eve of broadcast contract negotiations obviously isn’t the best time for a big dip in performance and ratings, however. One wonders whether, in light of the importance of these contracts, the team should have worked on a new TV deal a few years ago or should have instead triggered the inevitable rebuild a few years earlier in order to be able to make a more credible presentation of an upward-trending team in 2018.

Of course, it takes two to reach a meeting of the minds, so it’s possible the Tigers tried to get a jump on this during the winning days but weren’t able to make any headway with FSD at that time. It also is possible that these year-to-year fluctuations matter less than we outsiders think. Regardless, as we look toward the next era of Detroit Tigers baseball, the team’s new television contract will play as much of a role in shaping that next era as any current or future player contract.

______________________________________________

Previously
Jordan Zimmermann takes tennis lessons – 8/20
Tigers Notes, 8/8/17
– 8/8
Decoding the Upton Myth
– 8/2
Even the umpires just wanna go home
– 7/21

Yo, a J.D. Martinez trade comp – 7/19
Martinez trade triggers premature referendum on Avila – 7/19
Michael Fulmer has righted the ship
 – 6/27

Tigers in Retrograde – 6/19
Fixing Justin Upton
 – 5/31

Soft in the Middle Now – 5/30
Reliever Relief, Part 2 – 5/11
Reliever Relief – 5/8

Related
Statements both obvious and only slightly less obvious about the Detroit Tigers’ finances

Sports Law Roundup – 7/7/2017

aslr

I used to write the sports technology roundup at TechGraphs, an internet website that died, and now I am writing the sports law roundup at ALDLAND, an internet website.

After a break for the holiday weekend, here are the top sports-related legal stories:

  • NASCAR tune up: NASCAR driver Mike Wallace and members of his family have sued concert promoter and hospitality entities after the Wallace family says employees of Live Nation’s lawn care contractor brutally attacked them in the VIP parking lot outside a Rascal Flatts concert in Charlotte.
  • Minor League baseball wages: The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit has rejected claims by players in one of the minor league baseball player lawsuits proceeding as a direct challenge to MLB’s longstanding antitrust exemption. The court explained that it was bound by Supreme Court precedent to uphold the exemption, and that the players’ allegations– centering around an assertion that MLB and its teams colluded to suppress minor league player wages– involve “precisely the type of activity that falls within the antitrust exemption for the business of baseball.” This arguably was not the worst result for minor league baseball players in recent days, however.
  • Umpire discrimination: Angel Hernandez, a longtime MLB umpire who is of Cuban descent, has sued the league on claims arising out of general allegations of racial discrimination against minority umpires in promotions to crew chief status and in World Series assignments, as well as specific allegations of Hernandez’s personal targeting by Joe Torre, who began working as MLB’s umpire supervisor in 2011. On the latter issue, Hernandez claims to trace a negative change in his reviews beginning in 2011 to friction between him and Torre that originated a decade prior, when Torre was the manager of the New York Yankees.
  • Athlete financial adviser: In April, a former financial adviser to former San Antonio Spurs star Tim Duncan pled guilty to wire fraud in connection with allegations that the adviser tricked Duncan into guaranteeing a $6 million loan to a sportswear company the adviser controlled. Last week, a judge sentenced the adviser to four years in prison and ordered him to pay restitution in the amount of $7.5 million, the total amount of Duncan’s investment in the adviser’s company.
  • Penn State football coach: Not content to stay out of the legal news, Penn State has sued Bob Shoop, a former Nittany Lion football defensive coordinator now filling the same role for the University of Tennessee, alleging that he breached his employment contract with PSU when he left for the UT gig during the term of the contract. That contract included a provision that, if Shoop left early to take anything other than a head coaching position, he would owe Penn State fifty percent of his base salary. In the lawsuit, PSU is seeking $891,856 in damages. The move to Knoxville is a return to Tennessee and the SEC for Shoop, who was James Franklin’s defensive coordinator  at Vanderbilt from 2011 until he joined Franklin’s dead-of-night departure from Nashville to State College in 2014.
  • Gambling: The Supreme Court has agreed to hear an appeal in a case involving the State of New Jersey’s challenge to a 1992 federal ban on expansions to sports betting outside of the states– Nevada, Montana, Oregon, and Delaware– where it was legal at the time.
  • Fox Sports 1 executive: Fox Sports has terminated Jamie Horowitz, a top television executive responsible for the “embrace debate” brand of sports programming first at ESPN and now at FS1, because he is the subject of a sexual harassment investigation at the latter network. Horowitz had been the president of Fox Sports’ national networks since May 2015 and was responsible for bringing Skip Bayless, Jason Whitlock, and Colin Cowherd to the FS1 airwaves. Most recently, Horowitz was responsible for substantial layoffs in Fox Sports’ digital group and an elimination of all written content at FoxSports.com.
  • NBA arena security: A former manager of security operations at Philips Arena, the home of the Atlanta Hawks, has sued ATL Hawks LLC, the company that owns the Hawks and the arena, alleging that he lost his job because he complained after white concert performers Axl Rose and Brian Wilson were allowed to bypass metal detectors a week after similar requests from black performers Drake and Future were denied.

Sports court is in recess.

Sports Law Roundup – 5/19/2017

aslr

I used to write the sports technology roundup at TechGraphs, an internet website that died, and now I am writing the sports law roundup at ALDLAND, an internet website.

Here are the top sports-related legal stories from the past week:

  • Basketball mugging: Moses Malone Jr., son of NBA great Moses Malone, sued James Harden, claiming that Harden paid a group of people $20,000 to mug Malone Jr. at a Houston strip club last summer after critical comments by Malone Jr. about Harden’s youth basketball camp angered Harden. Malone Jr. posted a Facebook.com comment about the $250-per-attendee cost of Harden’s camp and then was beaten and robbed at the strip club. One of the men charged in the attack reportedly told Malone Jr. during the attack that Malone Jr. “disrespected James Harden and that he needs to be punished after that.” At this time, police have not established a connection between Harden and the attack.
  • Golf drugs: Vijay Singh won a victory in his lawsuit against the PGA this week when a court ruled that his claim that the tour breached an implied duty of good faith it owed to Singh could proceed. Singh’s case arises out of a 2013 suspension the PGA issued to him after he told a reporter he’d used a product called The Ultimate Spray, which contains “velvet from the immature antlers of male deer,” something that supposedly aids performance. The PGA suspended Singh based on his admission before checking with the World Anti-Doping Agency (“WADA”), which maintains the tour’s agreed list of banned substances, to confirm that the spray in fact contained or constituted a banned substance. During Singh’s suspension, WADA issued a public statement clarifying that use of the spray was not prohibited. Singh’s contention is that the PGA should have confirmed this fact with WADA before it suspended him.
  • Football painkillers: The judge overseeing the proposed class action brought by former NFL players against the league’s thirty-two teams improper dispensation of painkillers dealt the plaintiffs another serious blow this week by dismissing almost all of the claims remaining in the case, and he does not seem to be impressed by the plaintiffs’ efforts: “perhaps the bloat of inapposite allegations is the product of some advocacy-based agenda rather than any attempt to comply with pleading requirements. For present purposes, however, this order makes clear at the outset that what matters is not whether plaintiffs have drawn attention to widespread misconduct in the NFL but whether each plaintiff has properly pled claims for relief against each individual club and, if so, whether those claims survive summary judgment.” At this time, the only claims that remain in the case are those brought by two individual players against three teams, the Green Bay Packers, Denver Broncos, and San Diego Chargers.
  • Baylor sexual assaults: Amazingly, Baylor’s legal troubles continue to mount. After a former student sued the university earlier this year, alleging she was the victim of a group rape committed by two football players in 2013 that the school ignored; that football players were responsible for numerous other crimes “involving violent physical assault, armed robbery, burglary, drugs, guns, and, notably, the most widespread culture of sexual violence and abuse of women ever reported in a collegiate athletic program”; and that, between 2011 and 2014, thirty-one Baylor football players committed a total of fifty-two rapes, including five gang rapes, another former student has sued the school based on similar allegations. The new case, filed by a former volleyball player for the university, is the seventh Title IX lawsuit brought against the school, and it alleges that up to eight Baylor football players drugged and raped the plaintiff in 2012. The complaint explains that the attack was photographed and videotaped and happened in connection with a football hazing program.
  • NBA ticket devaluation: A San Antonio Spurs fan has sued the Golden State Warriors and one of that team’s players, Zaza Pachulia, claiming that Pachulia’s contribution to the injury of Spurs star Kawhi Leonard “devastated the quality of the Spurs’ chances of being competitive,” thereby diminishing the value of the plaintiff’s tickets to future Spurs playoff games. Video of the play in question is available here. It shows Pachulia moving in front of Leonard, who is in the air releasing a shot, and Leonard subsequently landing on Pachulia’s foot, resulting in an exacerbation of Leonard’s ankle injury that caused him to miss the remainder of the first game and all of the second game of the NBA’s Western Conference finals. Leonard did not participate in practice yesterday, and his status for tomorrow’s game remains undetermined.
  • MLB streaming: Facebook and MLB have reached a live game streaming agreement that grants streaming rights to the social media platform for certain Friday night games. Streams will be free to users in the United States, and it appears that blackout restrictions will not be enforced, meaning fans located in the participating teams’ geographical regions should be able to watch as well. The initial deal includes twenty games, beginning with tonight’s Rockies-Reds matchup. More games may be added later. It is not clear whether this announcement has anything to do with the new lawsuit filed earlier this month by fans seeking to enforce a previous settlement agreement that required MLB to provide more live streams of in-market games by 2017, but it sure seems like it does.
  • Football jokes: An individual who posts jokes on the internet has sued Conan O’Brien, alleging that O’Brien stole a joke from him about Tom Brady winning the Super Bowl MVP award two years ago. Super Bowl MVPs apparently receive pickup trucks as prizes, and Brady, having won multiple such awards and having no use for a truck, has been giving them to a teammate he feels deserves it. Following New England’s last-second victory over Seattle in Super Bowl XLIX, Brady gave the truck to Malcolm Butler, who secured the game-winning interception. The essence of the joke was that Brady should’ve given the truck to Seahawks coach Pete Carroll, who, many thought, made a very bad play call on that play. I’m not sure what the statute of limitation is on joke-theft claims, but any joke that takes this long to explain probably isn’t worth stealing.  (It also seems kind of obvious, at least in retrospect.) A judge has ruled that the case will go before a jury, which will decide whether O’Brien infringed the individual’s copyright on that joke and two others.

Sports court is in recess.

Sports Law Roundup – 5/5/2017

aslr - cinco

I used to write the sports technology roundup at TechGraphs, an internet website that died, and now I am writing the sports law roundup at ALDLAND, an internet website.

Here are the top sports-related legal stories from the past week:

  • NBA profiling: In 2015, Mike Scott, then a member of the Atlanta Hawks, and his brother were pulled over and subsequently arrested after a search of their rented vehicle turned up marijuana, ecstasy, and $1,684 in cash.  The deputy sheriff who made the stop later was found to have been racially profiling drivers as part of a forfeiture scheme and placed on administrative leave. Records provided by the Scotts’ attorneys show that the deputy sheriff “pulled over more than 1,400 vehicles in 2015 and 2016 but issued only eight traffic citations. He also arrested 47 people, at least 44 of whom were minorities.” As a result of the profiling, the judge overseeing the Scotts’ drug case this week threw out the key evidence against the defendants.
  • Baseball broadcast settlement: In early 2016, MLB settled a fan antitrust lawsuit targeting the league’s television blackouts and other components of its broadcast system. While the blackouts survived, the fans did win reduced-price single-team subscription options for MLB.tv (I am a subscriber, to varying degrees of satisfaction), as well as a price reduction for the full MLB.tv package. The agreement also included a component that would allow MLB to raise prices in the future in exchange for providing more live streams of in-market games by 2017. That component now is at issue in a new motion filed by the fan group demanding that the court enforce the terms of the settlement agreement. The fans allege that MLB raised prices without the required corresponding in-market streaming increase. They concede that the league may have agreements in place with local television providers to provide the in-market streams, but, the fans argue, “the obvious purpose of the settlement was not that ‘agreements’ of some kind be reached, but that the actual games be available.” The fans also argue that, contrary to what they were promised, MLB has failed to make the “follow your team” game broadcasts available when the selected team is playing the team based in the fan’s local broadcast market.
  • Cheerleader wages: The Milwaukee Bucks and Lauren Herington, a former cheerleader for the team who alleged that the team violated federal and state labor laws by underpaying her and her fellow cheerleaders, have reached a $250,000 settlement of Herington’s proposed class action lawsuit that provides for the settlement funds to be divided as follows: $10,000 for Herington; $115,000 for Herington’s attorneys; and unspecified shares of the remaining $125,000 to Herington and other would-be class members who opt into the settlement based on their hours worked during the three-year period (2012-15) at issue. While not insubstantial, the Journal Sentinel notes that Milwaukee’s $250,000 settlement amount is less than what other teams– for example, the Oakland Raiders ($1.24 million), Tampa Bay Buccaneers ($825,000), and Cincinnati Bengals ($255,000)– have paid to resolve similar lawsuits. Upon learning that Herington was wavering on whether to agree to the settlement, her lawyer, who wanted her to accept the deal, reportedly was overheard telling her that “it’s a Bucks dancer’s choice my friend, better take my advice.”
  • Minor League baseball wages: As predicted two months ago, the court overseeing  the minor-league baseball players lawsuit against MLB for higher wages and overtime pay will permit the parties to appeal its recent ruling certifying the case for class-action treatment. In doing so, the court also decided to stay the case pending resolution of the class-certification issues by the appellate court.

Sports court is in recess.

ALDLAND Archives: Is the Worldwide Leader not long for this world? Imagining the end of ESPN

ESPN is in the midst of a significant layoff of on-air talent this week, and most of the casualties’ names are coming to light today. The cuts are leading many to ask some fundamental questions about the network’s future. Below, from the past, a potential answer to one such question.

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Is the Worldwide Leader not long for this world? Imagining the end of ESPN

December 7, 2015

My latest post at TechGraphs asks a simple question: why does ESPN still exist?

The full post is available here.

MLB in retrograde

mlbtv

I’m not always the quickest to notice changes in my surrounding environment, including the baseball component thereof, and I’ve had a lot (of really good things) going on that have necessarily kept me from fully jumping into the still-young MLB season thus far. Last night, I had a little window, though, so I dialed up the Tigers and Rays on MLB.tv, only to be met with a video-streaming brick wall. After a couple hours with tech support, I discovered that MLB Advanced Media (“MLBAM,” which produces MLB.tv) had discontinued service to the device model– a Lenovo tablet running Android– I’d purchased last year for the sole purpose of running MLB.tv. I have cancelled my subscription and demanded a refund.   Continue reading

Jim Leyland still isn’t buying media narratives

leyland-heat

If you’ve missed hearing Jim Leyland’s gravely voice churning up prefabricated media narratives like rocks in a cement mixer, then do not miss the MLB Network special on Leyland, which airs tonight at 9:00 Eastern.

In advance of the program, Leyland appeared today on MLB Network’s High Heat, refusing to take the bait as host Christopher “Mad Dog” Russo persistently and loudly (as expected) ran Leyland through some of the tougher moments in his more than twenty years as a major-league manager.

For me, Leyland, with his lovable disdain for the media, memorable battles with umpires, smoking of Marlboro Reds, and the mutual affection between him and his players and assistant coaches, is an essential part of the recent stretch of Detroit Tigers success, and he means a lot to the Marlins and Pirates communities too. The mere mention of a Jim Leyland special probably is enough to send most baseball fans to their televisions or DVRs, but if you’re on the fence, here’s the preview video, which includes this shot:

leyland-costas

Plus this guy(!):

gene-leyland

This is going to be a good show no matter what, but I will be a little disappointed if we don’t get to see Leyland singing (or not singing) or talking about his sweet pre-game ritual or post-game dancing.

Erin Andrews says the NFL enforces an in-game press embargo

Erin Andrews, an NFL sideline reporter for Fox, told Stephen Colbert last night (4:37 mark of the above video) that she is not allowed to report actual comments she hears from players or coaches.

“I hear the craziest things you could ever imagine,” Andrews said, explaining that she wished she could report them, but “the NFL doesn’t allow that.” Instead, she said, she is required to “paraphrase” what she hears in very general terms. Andrews wouldn’t elaborate on potential consequences of such reporting, saying only that “it’s just a rule, as a sideline reporter, I cannot repeat verbatim what I hear on the sideline.”

No sports entity is more interested in image control than the NFL (although execution sometimes is a different question), so it’s not shocking that Roger Goodell would have a gag order in place to keep what he undoubtedly sees as his reporters from relating to the public the actual comments of what he undoubtedly sees as his players.

This really shouldn’t come as a surprise if you recall the story that broke over the summer, when the league dictated to NBC which announcers the network was required to use on its Thursday and Sunday night broadcasts.

In the professional football world, the NFL Network is state-run media, obviously, but little leaks like the NBC Al Michaels/Mike Tirico story and Andrews’ revelation last night serve as gentle reminders that, for the NFL, there is no such thing as an independent press.