King Kaufman's Sports Daily

NFL, DirecTV miss a chance to do right by fans. Plus: You'll never guess what conference gets underrated in preseason polls. (Hint, look left on the map.)


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Salon Staff
August 20, 2007 8:00PM (UTC)

Fewer headlines have ever been more apt than this one in Thursday's Hollywood Reporter: "DirecTV Tries New Offense for NFL Coverage."

Offense is right. As in offensive.

The new deal is that up to 11 games a week will be streamed online. Great news for the legions of fans who can't get the DirecTV satellite service or don't want to switch their TV provider just to have their choice of NFL games to watch on 17 of the 52 Sundays in a year. Right?

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Wrong. The deal is only good if you already subscribe to NFL Sunday Ticket, which, in the second most fan-unfriendly deal in North American team sports, is available for $269 but only to DirecTV subscribers. And! You also have to subscribe to the $99 add-on bell-and-whistle package known as SuperFan. Also, it doesn't work on a Mac.

The NFL has its reasons, millions upon millions of them, for having an exclusive deal with DirecTV. Limiting access drives up prices as long as there's sufficient interest, which it's safe to say there is in NFL football.

There's a calculus involved, a weighing of the extra profits against the bad feelings engendered by the league's giant "Screw you" to fans who don't want a football league dictating what TV provider they do business with. The NFL evidently made that calculation a few years ago -- and extended its exclusive deal with DirecTV.

So, fine. I think it's a poor decision in the long term, but then again, NFL fans seem incapable of being offended enough by the league's anti-fan stance to do anything about it. The single most fan-unfriendly deal in North American team sports is the NFL charging regular-season prices for exhibition games, and then forcing season-ticket buyers, the best customers, to buy those exhibition-game tickets.

But it seems to me the biggest market for streaming games online would be the folks who don't have Sunday Ticket, for whatever reason. How many of the people who are willing to pay $269 or $368 for a season package will be glad to see that most -- not all -- games will be online because they just aren't able to stay in front of the TV on Sundays?

Major League Baseball, a comparative piker in saying "Screw you, fans" despite that phrase being its operating philosophy, offers games online through MLB.tv as an alternative to the television Extra Innings package. You can pay by the month or by the year, and it's a lot cheaper than Extra Innings, as it should be at this stage in history. Watching things online just isn't as good as watching them on TV just yet.

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As high as the price tag is for a season of Sunday Ticket, my guess, based on years of real-time and virtual conversations with football fans, is that a lot of them would be not just willing but happy to pay through the nose for individual games. I'd bet $20 for an individual game, $50 for one week's worth of games and $150 for a month's worth are price points that wouldn't go begging.

We'll never know as long as the NFL keeps getting richer by not giving the fans what they want.

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Playing favorites with the preseason AP poll [PERMALINK]

Interesting work by Mark Schlabach at ESPN.com to celebrate the release of the preseason Associated Press college football poll.

Schlabach studied the polls of the last 10 years to determine the most under- and overrated teams, based on where they finished in the rankings vs. their spot in the preseason poll. A team that was No. 5 in the preseason but finished at No. 15, for example, was overrated by 10 spots.

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This is important because the national championship is somewhat dependent on preseason rankings, though the AP poll itself is no longer a part of the Bowl Championship Series formula.

Schlabach shows that unless a team goes undefeated, it has almost no chance of winning the championship if it starts the season ranked below the top 10. Teams with a loss have had plenty of title shots, but all of them started the season No. 8 or higher except LSU in 2003, which started 14th.

College football is one of those rare sports, along with figure skating, in which everyone doesn't start out even. Some participants get a head start.

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And you'll never guess which conference has been the most underrated in a poll of media professionals: The Pac-10. The most overrated was the Big 12. Shocking, twice over.

This year's preseason poll, based on a careful reading of the Magic 8-Ball, cat entrails and how other guys are voting, has USC at No. 1, followed by LSU, West Virginia, Texas and Michigan. The USA Today coaches' poll, which is part of the BCS formula, has the same top five, except for Florida replacing West Virginia at No. 3.

I know. Ridiculous. Of course Michigan's going to be better than Texas this year, right? I mean, just look at the ... wait, I had these tea leaves all arranged here.

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Florida State, the most overrated team of the past decade, Schlabach writes, is No. 19 in the AP poll, No. 21 in USA Today. If there's a safer bet than Florida State finishing out of the top 25, I can't imagine what it might be.

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