Pierce: Watching sports on TV is paid privilege, not a right
Sports on TV • You’re already paying to see sports on TV when you pay your monthly cable bill.
Published: November 8, 2012 11:02AM
Updated: November 8, 2012 04:57PM

This may come as a surprise to some sports fan, but there’s nothing in the U.S. Constitution that guarantees the right to see sports on TV.

It’s also not in the scriptures, although a lot of fans consider sports to be a religion of sorts.

That seems obvious. But not everyone gets it. Like the Jazz fan who emailed me all incensed when a preseason game was not televised.

“What a disappointment to find once AGAIN there is no TV coverage.... Why, why why?” he wrote before casting aspersions on the team’s ownership.

It’s tempting to reply: It’s a scrimmage. Who cares?

But that’s unfair and condescending. The answer is the Utah Jazz determined that the cost of producing and airing some preseason games was not worth the small audience and smaller revenue. And that, by keeping the game off TV might, the Jazz might sell a few more tickets.

That’s not a revolutionary idea. It was only two years ago that Utah still intentionally kept one home football game off the TV schedule each season in an attempt to sell more season tickets.

Fans have come to expect easy TV access to everything, meaningless or not. The NFL telecasts preseason games (aka scrimmages) and more NCAA football teams are airing their spring games, aka intrasquad scrimmages.

What’s next? Televised practices?

With the appetite for more and more programming from more and more sports channels , who knows?

According to Nielsen, there were 42,500 of live sporting events on national broadcast and cable TV last year. That’s almost five times the number of hours in a year (8,760).

That doesn’t count thousands and thousands of hours of live sports on local broadcast and regional cable. And somebody has to pay for all of that.

That somebody is you. And me. And anyone who subscribes to cable or satellite TV.

Which tends to tick viewers off. Like another emailer, who suddenly discovered on Saturday that he was no longer receiving the Pac-12 Network on Dish and felt like “a victim of a bait-and-switch-like scheme.”

Actually, when Dish added P12N it announced it was offering the channel “as a free preview for a limited time to all DISH customers.” And that time is up, so it will cost you an additional $9 per month if you don’t already subscribe to the Multi-Sport Pack.

Is it worth another $108 per year to see Ute football, men’s basketball and some other sports? It’s a lot cheaper than buying season tickets.

To put that in some perspective, you’re already paying about $5 per month to get the ESPN channels. That’s what ESPN is charging cable and satellite companies, and the providers are passing that cost along to you.

(ESPN is in almost 100 million homes, so it brings in about $6 billion a year before it sells a single commercial. Which is why it can afford all those high-priced rights fees.)

With the exception of BYU, which has a different agenda and gives away its BYUtv signal, sports franchise aren’t just in it to win it, they’re in it to make money.

But not every game is going to end up on TV. Most aren’t going to end up on free TV.

We can’t walk up to the gate and expect to be given a free ticket. As annoying as it might be, we don’t have a right to see games on TV, free or not.

Scott D. Pierce covers television for The Salt Lake Tribune. Email him at spierce@sltrib.com; follow him on Twitter @ScottDPierce.