In the first reported case of corporate blowback involving the ongoing Trump vs NFL feud, the WSJ reports that DirecTV is letting some angry customers cancel subscriptions to its Sunday Ticket package of NFL games and obtain refunds "if they cite players’ national anthem protests as the reason", according to customer service representatives. While DirecTV's regular Sunday Ticket policy doesn’t allow refunds once the season is under way, the representatives said they are making exceptions this season, which began in September, in response to the player's growing protests, either kneeling or linking arms during the national anthem.
DirecTV service representatives contacted by The Wall Street Journal had different understandings of the policy. One said refunds to those concerned about the anthem protests were only offered to subscribers with certain offers or plans. One representative said full refunds were available for those who complained about anthem protests. Another said such people could only get prorated refunds for the remainder of the season.
While other representatives said the policy hadn’t changed and that no refunds were allowed for any reason, DirecTV subscribers contacted by the WSJ showed the satellite broadcaster was offering at least some refunds.
Marc 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 and receive a refund 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.”
Chris Baker, who lives in Indiana, told the WSJ that he reluctantly canceled his Sunday Ticket subscription, but not precisely as a response to the protests. “I explained to them I was tired of politics in sports, and it’s not how I want to spend my Sunday, watching all that transpire,” he said he told a DirecTV representative. He said the representative “insinuated there was a high volume of calls calling in to cancel.”
The shift is the latest twist in a controversy that has divided the nation after President Donald Trump blasted players who took a knee during the anthem and said they should be fired. He has called on people to walk out of stadiums when players are kneeling.
To be sure, Trump added to the fire on Tuesday saying that “for people to disrespect that by kneeling during the playing of our national anthem, I think is disgraceful.”
While several teams have issued statements defending the rights of their players to express their opinion - and the NFL also has shown solidarity with them - the stakes are much higher, and go beyond just the political. As the WSJ reports, football draws the biggest TV audiences of American sports and is a vital income source for a host of major media companies. For DirecTV, Sunday Ticket is a major customer draw and one of the NFL’s premier franchises, earning it $1.5 billion a year in licensing revenue.
Aside from DirecTV, the NFL-owned channel RedZone, which provides live action and scoring from every game on Sundays, is also experiencing some cancellations due to the protests.
Chuck Plavk, a veteran who resides in Wisconsin, canceled his subscription to the channel from Charter Communications ’ Spectrum Cable. He said when he called, the customer service representative said, “everybody’s calling about that today.” Unlike Sunday Ticket, which is only available through DirecTV, RedZone is available through a number of cable providers and streaming outlets.
Needless to say, a spike in cancellations risk further damage to both viewership and revenues as the league tries to stem an ongoing decline in ratings. Viewership fell last year and, as Trump pointed out, continues to do so this year.
Network executives and league officials attributed last year’s declines in part to viewing competition from the presidential election, consumer distaste with the pace and quality of games.
And now, based on DirecTV's announcement, one can add anthem protests to the list.