With the seemingly inexorable rise in the price of sports programming, it seemed inevitable that cable operators would have to charge subscribers for the privilege of watching American sports. According to Multichannel News, that time has already come with Time Warner Cable, as they have announced that they will be adding a $2.75 sports surcharge to subscribers’ bills starting in January 2015.
In the announcement, Time Warner cable claimed that the cost of cable sports programming has risen 91% since 2008, and according to Patrick Hruby of Sports on Earth, the average cost of a regional sports network has has risen 52 percent over the past five years. This is certainly conceivable with the types of TV deals being reached in the past few years, like the 9-year $24 billion NBA-ESPN deal in October of this year.
In Forbes, Maury Brown noted the irony of Time Warner’s announcement after their struggle to get distribution for SportsNet LA, the regional sports network they manage. The costs of carrying the channel jumped after they made a 25-year deal worth over $8.35 billion to broadcast Los Angeles Dodgers games. This led to a standoff between TWC and other cable operators like DirecTV for distribution rights, leading nearly 70% of Los Angeles area residents unable to watch Dodgers broadcasts this past season.
After the Supreme Court’s ruling against cable disruptor Aereo, and with John McCain’s Television Consumer Freedom Act having little hope of passage in Congress, there doesn’t seem to be much hope for governmental intervention in the cable arena. Regardless, speculation of an approaching sports cable bubble persists. However, it will likely take years for this bubble to burst, requiring an increasing rate of cord-cutting and rising prices for cable subscribers.