Sports Rebates May Return $1.1 Billion to Customers

More than $1 billion is flowing back to U.S. pay-TV subscribers in the form of refunds and credits, compensating them for the year’s many pandemic-related sports cancellations.

Pay-TV providers like AT&T Inc., Comcast Corp., Verizon Communications Inc. and Charter Communications Inc. kept collecting sports-programming fees even as the Covid-19 outbreak canceled sporting events like college basketball tournaments and disrupted pro leagues like the MLB, NBA and NHL.

Now, after months of unwinding insurance settlements, league payments and regional-sports-network fees, the total rebates from RSNs could be as much as $1.1 billion, according to an estimate by Brandon Ross, an analyst with LightShed Partners.

“The only winner is the customer,” said Ross, adding that the payback will vary by market. For example, the math says about $14 for the average Charter video subscriber, Ross said.

Charter intends to credit as much as $218 million back to pay-TV customers for sports-network rebates, according to executives on an Oct. 30 earnings call.

Verizon began notifying customers this week that repayments were coming in the form of credits on their bills.

“We at Verizon remain resolute in our plan to pass on the Covid-related refunds that we receive from regional sports networks to impacted Fios TV customers,” the company said in an announcement to customers. “We are pleased to begin issuing bill credits to these customers next month.”

Comcast also has been passing credits along to customers. It accrued $218 million in the second quarter and $153 million in the third quarter for the adjustments, the cable giant said. Xfinity customers started seeing the credits on Oct. 1.

AT&T, meanwhile, said it will provide “courtesy adjustments” to customers who paid for regional sports channels from April to July. Customers will receive the full amount that the company receives back from the sports networks, according to a spokesman. He couldn’t provide a total value of the refunds.

Satellite-TV provider Dish Network Corp. also said it was giving bill credits to affected subscribers, along with free replacement sports coverage.

“The value that we will be returning to our customers through credits and replacement programming exceeds the refunds that we’ve received from content providers,” the company said in an emailed statement.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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