Local Blackouts Irk 'Sunday Ticket' Holders


Some "NFL Sunday Ticket" subscribers are crying foul over the package's new game-blackout provisions.

For the first time, DirecTV Inc.'s out-of-market package, providing coverage of the National Football League's Sunday-afternoon games, is blacking out games televised by the local broadcast-TV affiliates of Fox and CBS.

The change is part of the direct-broadcast satellite provider's $2 billion deal with the NFL, reached last December, which extended the direct-broadcast satellite giant's exclusive right to Sunday Ticket games through 2005.

"There was a slight change to ensure that the in-market games are watched on the local affiliate," NFL director of corporate communications Brian McCarthy said. "Those games blacked out on the Sunday Ticket package [are] available on your local CBS and Fox channels."

The changes aren't sitting well with some subscribers. DirecTV officials admit the DBS provider has received a number of calls about the new blackout provisions through the first two weeks of the NFL season, though it refused to provide specific numbers.

DirecTV also would not reveal its NFL Sunday Ticket subscriber base. Published reports place last year's total at 1.65 million.

The satellite provider said it is adhering to provisions outlined by the NFL in the new agreement.

"Just like any change with our programming, it's an education process," DirecTV public-relations specialist Jade Valine said. "We're getting questions about why it's like this now, so we have to explain what the new rules are."

Valine said DirecTV made the changes clear in its print and on-air advertising materials. The network also has a thorough explanation of the blackout provisions listed on the NFL Sunday Ticket portion of its Web site, Directv.com.

Sunday Ticket subscribers were also hit with a $30 increase. The package price rose from $179 last year to $209.

DirecTV has made several enhancements to the package, including four additional channels on which viewers can watch games while scores are continuously updated at the bottom and on the left side of the screen.

Subscribers can also receive up-to-date scores and statistics via the Web site.

Customers with DirecTV digital video recorders also receive a highlights package on Monday mornings. And subscribers with high-definition TV sets can receive HD and widescreen telecasts.

"Anything that we can do to enhance NFL Sunday Ticket, we'll look at doing," DirecTV vice president of marketing Jayne Hancock said. "The price point is something that we've been able to hold back very well over the last number of years, so it's not correlated with the added benefits and value. It's a price point that we felt we needed to go to this season."