Thousands of Utahns want to cut the cord, but there’s one thing holding them back: being able to watch Utah Jazz games.
Right now, there is no “over-the-top” streaming service that carries AT&T SportsNet, the channel that has paid the Jazz about $20 million per season in exchange for the terrestrial and digital rights to show Jazz games.
That puts the Jazz in stark contrast with most of the NBA. Most of the NBA’s 30 teams (26 to be exact) have games available on an over-the-top streaming service (such as Sling, YouTube TV, Playstation Vue, or DirecTV Now) that allows fans to cut the cord and go internet-only with their TV package. Most of those packages cost $25-40 per month.
Surprisingly, AT&T SportsNet isn’t even available on the DirecTV Now streaming service, a service that AT&T owns. AT&T acquired DirecTV in 2015.
Even for those Jazz fans who prefer to keep their standard television contracts, streaming Jazz games away from their TV screen isn’t always easy. Late last season, AT&T SportsNet released its mobile app and streaming website, providing access to stream the games to those who subscribe to participating pay TV providers.
In Utah, though, only DirecTV is among the list of AT&T’s participating providers. Notably, a Comcast, Dish, or Google Fiber subscription doesn’t allow one to use the AT&T SportsNet app to watch games. And even for those who can use the app, the rights agreements prevent the video from being “casted” to a television screen — the video has to stay on the phone, tablet, or computer screen.
The result: hordes of frustrated Jazz fans, who want to watch games without being tethered to their living room TV screens.
The Jazz organization would love broader distribution of its games across multiple platforms but gave the full digital rights to AT&T SportsNet in a contract signed in 2009 that runs through 2021. The Salt Lake Tribune has learned that the team has tried to put pressure on AT&T SportsNet to improve the situation, but it doesn’t really have any leverage. Naturally, the Jazz are worried about losing the next generation of fans, the younger generation that is less likely to pay for a traditional TV deal.
“Our broadcast strengthens the bond between our fans and the team and is the connection in the season-long journey,” Jazz president Steve Starks told The Tribune.
The NBA league office, too, says that it wants it’s games on the largest available platform, but has no ability to interfere with a valid contract between a team and a regional sports network.
AT&T SportsNet, meanwhile, asks viewers to reach out to their TV provider and ask for streaming access. “We continue to have conversations with providers and hope to add additional providers soon,” Suzanne Trantnow, an AT&T spokesperson, said in a statement.
Providers aren’t biting, though, and for reasons that are more than just financial. A story by the Houston Chronicle suggested Comcast has chosen not to ink a streaming deal with AT&T SportsNet (which also broadcasts Houston Rockets games) because “the company does not want AT&T to have access to information about its subscribers.”
For those who’d prefer to pay for an over-the-top service and cancel their standard TV contracts, AT&T asks that Jazz fans contact the individual service providers there, too. So, yes, irritatingly, in the case of DirecTV Now, they’re asking consumers to contact their own subsidiary.
Last season, it seemed as if progress would be made, and that Jazz games would be available on an over-the-top service, but that optimism faded as the Jazz got deeper into the season. Now, it seems as if both AT&T SportsNet and the TV providers are entrenched in their positions, with no end in sight.
A DirecTV Now streaming option makes the most sense of the over-the-top options, but as of this summer, there is a feeling of resignation: no one The Tribune spoke to was willing to put a timeline on when AT&T SportsNet might be available on the service. After all, why hasn’t it been done already?
There appear to be only two solutions to the problem: public pressure and time. Several executives noted that AT&T SportsNet and the TV providers considered those who wanted streaming a “vocal minority,” and that they felt there wasn’t yet a compelling business reason to move off their negotiating position.
And for the truly patient, the deal’s expiration will give the Jazz the ability to negotiate more favorable streaming terms into their next TV deal. While that’s still a few years away, the Jazz plan to make it a priority to get their games in front of as many eyeballs as possible, no matter the technology used.