DirecTV’s Regional Sports Fees Make No Sense; You May Be Paying $87/Year More Than Your Neighbor

“Regional Sports Fees” — one of those add-on charges that cable and satellite companies tack on to raise the price of pay-TV plans without having to change the price they advertise — have rubbed a lot of people the wrong way in recent months. Comcast is being sued over this fee, and lawmakers have asked cable providers to explain these charges. As irritating as this surcharge may be, an analysis of how DirecTV assesses these fees raises questions about the motives of the nation’s largest satellite TV provider.

We’ve heard a lot of complaints from readers about cable surcharges, but most of them don’t put in the extra effort that Connie did.

She recently noticed that her DirecTV bill had gone up by $7.29 a month because of a Regional Sports Fee. Connie also noticed that DirecTV has a tool on its website that lets you look up your fee by entering your ZIP code, so she began comparing her fee to those in the surrounding ZIPs.

As you can see from this map that she put together, DirecTV charges fees of $0, $2.47, $5.83, and $7.29 depending on ZIP, even though all of these customers get access to the same regional sports:

Connie made multiple attempts to get some sort of explanation from DirecTV; she even managed to speak to some folks from the CEO’s office, but all anyone would tell her was the same thing: These fees are determined by ZIP code.

To quote Sartre: Duh.

“What DirecTV has failed to answer is why they have such different fees, all allegedly in the same sports market and all within 25 miles of each other,” Connie tells Consumerist. “It just makes no sense to me other than something is not right here.”

Curious what we’d find when we punched in some ZIP codes into this DirecTV tool, we checked out a handful of markets. In some — New York City and every California market we looked at — it appeared that every ZIP was being charged the same high rate of $7.29.

However, other markets — selected at random — turned up some strange variations in fees. For example, there’s Minneapolis, where every ZIP code we tested was being charged a fee of $4.53… except two:

The $0 fee is for the ZIP code containing the main University of Minnesota campus, which may explain the lack of a charge. However, there is no immediately apparent reason why the 55408 ZIP code would be charged $1.30 more per month than the rest of the city.

Pittsburgh was a similar situation, where three seemingly unrelated ZIP codes all pay $1.46/month more than their neighbors:

Chicago seemed like it was going to all be the same fee level, until we stumbled on 60647, where residents get the rare privilege of paying $7.29 per month while everyone else pays $5.83 — again, for exactly the same channels in exactly the same market:

When I punched in my own ZIP code in Philadelphia, I wasn’t surprised to see $0, since DirecTV still doesn’t carry Comcast Sports Philly — the one channel for most Phillies, Flyers, and Sixers games. But I persisted in checking the surrounding ZIP codes and found the most bewildering map of any market we surveyed:

As you can see, for most of the Philly area DirecTV charges no Regional Sports Fee, but there are random parts of the city being charged $4.53 or $5.83 per month. Across the river in New Jersey, many people are paying no fee, but those who are being charged are paying $7.29 each month.

That means that one DirecTV customer may be paying as much as $87.48 a year more than her friend across the street, even though they get identical programming packages.

The strangest DirecTV fee pattern we found was in the heart of Center City Philly, where two small ZIP codes with $0 fees are sandwiched between two ZIPs with $4.83 fees:

This can’t be a matter of local franchise agreements between DirecTV and the various cities… because satellite companies don’t need to reach franchise agreements.

We sent all these maps to DirecTV, hoping to get a better explanation than the non-answer given to Connie. After more than two days of waiting, the best the company has been willing to provide is “[Regional sports network] content and thus the costs charged by providers vary significantly by ZIP code.”

Yet that’s simply not true. The examples we provided to DirecTV all involve relatively small areas where any regional channels would be the same. For instance, we could find no evidence of any special regional sports channel being beamed only to residents of Chicago’s Logan Square neighborhood.

We sent a follow-up question, asking DirecTV why two adjoining ZIP codes would have regional sports fees that differ by as much as $87/year. The company has not yet provided a response.

Want more consumer news? Visit our parent organization, Consumer Reports, for the latest on scams, recalls, and other consumer issues.