On March 11th, starting with the National Basketball Association, professional sports leagues decided to suspend their seasons as the coronavirus started to spread across the country. In addition to the loss of the live sporting events—and revenue for teams and jobs for seasonal stadium staff—home viewers who watch games through their cable and/or satellite TV providers have been left with vintage games and talking heads wondering when Sports Will Come Back.
Now, New York Attorney General Letitia James says that New Yorkers shouldn't have to pay for the privilege of watching, oh, a 2007 Monday Night Football game between Buffalo and Dallas. James has sent letters to Altice USA, AT&T, Charter, Comcast, DISH, RCN, and Verizon, informing them that they must "immediately prepare and provide plans" to her office "for how they will provide financial relief to consumers until live sports programming is resumed."
Her office noted that cable and satellite TV subscribers pay up to a $20 premium for live events.
“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,” James said in a statement. "These companies must step up and immediately propose plans to cut charges and provide much needed financial relief. This crisis has brought new economic anxiety for all New Yorkers, and I will continue to protect the wallets of working people at every turn."
One issue is that the cable networks have paid millions for broadcasting rights to different sports leagues, and fees from subscribers make up the networks' bottom lines. Those behemoths have resisted offering refunds or credits to customers so far. ONe Verizon executive told the NY Times in early April, "We don’t want to charge our customers for content they aren’t watching and receiving. Whether that is going to be in the form of a refund or discontinued billing, we are looking at all of those options right now," but added, "We need the broadcasters and RSNs [regional sports networks], and the leagues, to cooperate with that approach."
Responding to a query from Ars Technica, a Comcast spokesperson said "any rebates will be determined once the NBA, NHL, and MLB announce the course of action for their seasons, including the number of games that will be played, and of course we will pass those rebates or other adjustments along to our customers."
Some NBA practice facilities are being reopened, but Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr is doubtful the season will restart (the NBA would normally be heading into the playoffs in May, with the championship games in June).
Major League Baseball is reportedly considering a plan to start a shorter baseball season—which would have begun in late March—in late June, with new divisions that would combine American and National Leagues and realign them based on geography.; for instance, the Mets and Yankees would be in the same division. No fans would be in attendance.
The National Football League may be contemplating a mid-October start.
Attorney General James is asking that cable providers give details about “appropriate refunds, discounts and reductions of charges and fees, payment deferrals, and waiver of termination fees, at least until live sports programming is resumed.”