I called DirecTV yesterday, and the representative on the other end of the line told me something that completely flew in the face of my perception of the NFL; specifically, its approach to content availability.
For years, regardless of whether it makes business sense on the NFL’s end, I’ve been frustrated by how difficult it is to watch Kansas City Chiefs games. I’ve been a Chiefs fan pretty much ever since I’ve been a person. The problem is that I live in Louisville, which, obviously, is not in the Kansas City market. Another problem is that, being an hour and change away from both Cincinnati and Indianapolis, Louisville is a dual market for both the Colts and Bengals. This means that two teams, not just one, take automatic precedent over any given Chiefs game, and the Chiefs face one of these two teams about once a year.
The obvious solution is to break down and pay $350 for DirecTV’s Sunday Ticket. Not only is that a lot of money, but if you live in an apartment (as I do), chances are decent that your landlord will prohibit you from having a satellite dish installed, in spite of what FCC regulations have to say about it. The alternative, then, is to subscribe to DirecTV’s internet-only Sunday Ticket video package, which would at least allow me to watch on my laptop or connect the laptop to my television.
This woman told me I’d only need to pay $60. For the entire season. This threw me for a loop, and I asked the question multiple times just to confirm that I understood what she was saying. On a per-week basis, this would be an even better deal than MLB.tv. It was... well, reasonable. I was not expecting "reasonable."
I had to call back, since I didn’t have my check card on me at the moment. When I did, I spoke to three different people who clarified that, no, she was mistaken, the price for this package is $350. One of them laughed at me. I laughed with her, and I laughed because I was relieved. The NFL and its associates were trying to gouge me out of a lot of money. The universe had righted itself.
Now, I’m not interested in maligning DirecTV just because it employs one person who got the facts wrong one time. This happens all the time, everywhere. Instead, I’m interested in whining about having to pay $350 for something I would get for free if I lived in Prairie Village, Kansas.
What are my remaining options? Well, I’ve taken the liberty of drawing up a ranked list of contingency plans. Of course, this applies not only to me, but to the millions of football fan diaspora who live in apartments far removed from their favorite team’s market.
1. Just pay $350 for Sunday Ticket already, doofus
2. Get your friends to pool money together for a Sunday Ticket subscription
We've already established that you don't live in the same area as your favorite team, so the odds that your friends will want to get together to watch your team aren't particularly high. And even if they do, and even if they actually pay you their share, you're obligated to invite them over 17 times within four months. Every time, one of your friends will bring over a bowl of his/her purported "world-famous Chex mix," and every time, you will have to take a few handfuls for the sake of politeness, which you eventually come to resent, since Chex mix tastes like crunchy porridge regardless of its degree of international celebrity.
Also, if the NFL finds out that you have more than four people watching one subscription, you will go to prison.
3. Go to a sports bar
Straight away, there's one grievance to register regarding sports bars: they meddle in too many affairs and wield entirely too much power.
Most sports bars are either Buffalo Wild Wings or an establishment so similar to Buffalo Wild Wings that it doesn't matter. You can probably find the game you want to watch, but the sound is muted (which I suppose could be a positive in certain cases). If you and your friends are relegated to a booth, you'll have to watch the same game on diametrically opposed televisions, which is implicitly forbidden by the Abrahamic holy books.
Odds are that you'll be resigned to drinking light beer or a facsimile margarita poured into a plastic tumbler. Most of the food tastes like a master chef did the best he could with the contents of a Hungry-Man TV dinner. (Are these classist statements or simply appeals to good taste? Oh well, will think about this later, too busy kvetching.)
When it comes down to it, I would rather forget that I have a favorite team, visit an empty hole-in-the-wall bar, sip on well drinks, and discuss whichever game is being shown on the 19" Magnavox with the guy a few stools over who would, on any other day, prefer to debate whether marijuana enhances the Steely Dan listening experience (this debate rarely involves a second party and always reaches a swift verdict).
4. Watch a bootleg Internet feed
I’m not going to link to any sources for unauthorized live video feeds, because I am fearful of going to jail forever, but they are not terribly difficult to find. Please do not misunderstand this: while they do not cost you any money, they are not free, as a micro-payment system is in place to charge small amounts of your sanity with each passing minute.
These are common experiences:
- You open a bootleg video feed. A quiz comes up titled, "Which Simpsons Character Are You?" You must take this test in order to watch the feed -- seriously, it won’t play until your browser detects that you have finished it.
- It turns out that you are similar to Chief Wiggum, probably because at one point in the survey, you disclosed that you enjoy donuts from time to time.
- The video plays, but it’s five seconds behind the audio. Hearing the play-by-play man screaming about a fumble while simultaneously seeing the quarterback call out a snap count is a jarring experience. It’s impossible to get used to it. On at least one occasion, you catch yourself seriously believing that the audio is being broadcast from five seconds into the future.
- Sometimes, the video itself is a screener. In other words, the person maintaining the feed lacks the equipment necessary to connect his computer directly to the source, and as a workaround, he just plops his camcorder right in front of the screen. One time, I opened such a feed. The guy’s bratty kid was having a temper tantrum, and I couldn’t hear anything because they were yelling at each other. At one point during the kid’s tantrum, he apparently knocked the camera over on its side, and the guy didn’t notice. It was an game I really wanted to watch. I watched the rest of the game this way. Sideways.
- Above and below the video, there are hyper-obnoxious banner ads that will auto-play equally obnoxious audio if you accidentally mouse over it. After a few minutes, you try to open unnecessary windows for the sole purposes of re-sizing them to cover up said banner ads.
- Once in a while, there is a chat room placed to the right of the video, and sometimes it does not allow for an option to turn it off. This is very, very bad news, especially since this is, obviously, a completely lawless corner of the Internet. The most racist things imaginable are thrown around routinely. Since this chat room is embedded from elsewhere, half the people in the room are talking about other games that are going on. Ten new messages are posted every second. Sometimes the words scroll so quickly that they project the face of Satan! Try it!
- The video doesn't skip often, but when it does, it is ALWAYS during a critical moment. Or at least it seems that way. The truth does not matter. You will convince yourself that these skips are caused by a sentient, sadistic entity of some kind, and this will lead to further questions, such as whether the Internet itself is a consciousness in and of itself, and whether it's feeling angry or grumpy.
So! If you're willing to subject yourself to all of this, knock yourself out.
5. Listen to an online radio broadcast
At least a few teams have these available, and apparently, they’re legally in the clear. This is the problem: football on the radio is about 1/50th of what it is when you can see it. Maybe it would work if Ira Glass and David Sedaris manned the booth, delivering wry observations and playing Feist B-sides in lieu of commercials, but football is more visual than, say, baseball, where radio sort of works.
God help you if you're trying to listen with friends. In order to actually follow the game, everyone must sit in silence.
One somewhat intriguing upside: you'll hear commercials from car dealerships in another town, and even though they sound exactly like the car dealership commercials that play in your town, they will sound really, really strange to you. Nobody really knows why this is.
6. Follow along with an SB Nation blog's game thread
I might sound like I'm shilling here, but I'm serious: our blogs' game threads are the perfect complement to sitting back and watching a game at home. This is especially great if you're watching a team you aren't very familiar with, as you can look over and see what fans of the team are saying right as the game's happening.
It's sometimes a different story if you aren't actually able to watch the game. Usually, nobody in these threads is giving a play-by-play, because it's taken for granted that everyone is watching the game. Let me show you what I'm talking about. Here is a sampling of comments posted a couple of weeks ago at our Lions blog, Pride of Detroit. (Cusses have been censored.)
BULLS*** BULLS*** BULLS***
What a bunch of s***
I can't believe this.
OH MY GOD
the NFL has lost a lot of credibility
Heads will roll!!!!!
we won. we won I don't care about that rule! BS BS
I can't f***ing take this bull s***
If I ever see any of those NFL officials, I will go to jail the rest of my life
Period. F*** the NFL. F*** THEM
Are they reacting to this...
7. Get your friend who lives in-market to text you score updates
Hey chiefs scored 6-0
Extra point 7-0 now
Broncos kicked a field goal 7-3
Drinking schlafly pumpkin ale this stuff actually tastes like pumpkins its weird
Int colts have the ball now
Whoa javier arenas had a good return. Did you know he was related to gilbert arenas
Is i mean. Gilbert arenas is still alive
Drinking 6th pumpkin ail
Broncos fumbled chiefs got it
17-10 chiefs leading. Td pass to moeaeouaeki
I dont like this flo tv commercial with jim nantz. Its racist against women
According to jim nantz women are boring and horrible to be around, thats why you need portable tv
17-17 brnocos td 5 minutes left
Change out of that skirt jason. Also establishes cross dressers as 2st class citizens
0 to 17 now that was ridiculous
Youre watching this game right
20 to 17 sorry. Back to back turnovers. Like 2 or 3 of them. Then field gol
6 or 5 minutes left i thimk
Hey man, sorry about yesterday. I got buzzed faster than I thought I would. Guess you saw the last play, it was all over SportsCenter. You should have just bought Sunday Ticket. It would have been worth it just for that last play. Anyway I woke up on the (continued)
couch at like 9:00 and figured out that I was trying to make Irish coffee with a bottle of Coors. Saw that I wrote a text but didn't send it, it said "hold on making mad energy drink get hype hit the pipe get swole hit the bowl lol." Lol.
* * * * * *
Some quick numbers: beginning next year, DirecTV will pay the NFL approximately $1 billion per season for its Sunday Ticket deal. HBO has about 28 million subscribers, and charges its subscribers about $14 per month. The NFL's regular season lasts about four months; if it charged HBO's rate, it would earn $56 per subscriber. If it gained as many subscribers as HBO has, it would make over $1.5 billion per season, and over $500 million more than it will make from DirecTV next year. I must ultimately defer to the people with PhDs in business, though, as I am a simple man of simple math.
I remember clearly the first time I cared about sports in a meaningful way. I was eight years old. With under a minute left in a playoff game, Nick Lowery could have won the game with a 52-yard field goal, but it fell short -- so short that I cheered because I thought it went through. I remained a Chiefs fan after the 1992 Chargers shut us out, and 1995 Lin Elliott missed 675 kicks in a single game, and 1997 Elvis Grbac spent too much time calling a play with no timeouts remaining, and the 2003 Chiefs' defensive couldn't force a single punt out of the Colts.
What I'm saying, NFL, is that I'm still here, and that I am willing to give you money for what I used to get for free. I apologize for living elsewhere. This season has instilled unreasonable expectations in me, and I may well end up paying the $350 asked of me. To say the least, though, you will be hurting my feelings.