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Ken Hoffman faces off with DirecTV about a costly premium choice

Hoffman warns that a "free" NFL Sunday Ticket offer will cost you. Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

This article originally appeared on CultureMap.

A while back — let's make it "many years ago" for sake of this rant, that's how angry I am — I was contacted by DirecTV and talked into dropping cable.

"Come with us," they said. "You will receive a year of the NFL Sunday Ticket for free." 

I signed up with DirecTV over the phone. They came to my house and installed the equipment. I picked the programming package I wanted and registered my credit card for auto-pay. 

Years later — as in last Sunday: We were watching the Houston Texans game at my house and a friend asked if I had DirecTV. I said yes. He took the remote (please don't do that) and switched to Channel 700-and-something and found the Cleveland Browns game. I had no idea that I still had NFL Sunday Ticket, which brings every pro game on Sunday to my TV.

"You didn't know you had the Sunday Ticket?"he asked.

No, why would I want the Sunday Ticket? It's tough enough watching the Houston Texans on local TV. With a triple header on Sunday, Monday Night Football, and Thursday Night Football, I don't need to watch every other NFL game, too. And if I did follow an out-of-town team, it would be the New York Jets, and that's like begging somebody to hit me in the head with a frying pan.

"You know that you're paying for the NFL Sunday Ticket, right?"

No, it's free with DirecTV.

"That was just the first year. You might want to call them and check."

Really expensive games
Uh-oh. I called DirecTV and, yes, I've been paying every year since Year One. I asked how much? It's $300 a year. And I had already paid three of the six $50 installments for this year. I'm out a couple of dimes on NFL games — and I don't even bet.

I know, this is on me. I should have read the DirecTV contract when it came in the mail. I'm sure it said that I'd get the NFL Sunday Ticket free for one year, then DirecTV would automatically re-up me, and start charging $300 a year until I cried uncle.

Who reads these contracts? I also haven't read my contract with the water company, the electric company, the gas company, and a stack of other unopened envelopes in my desk, either.

I told the DirecTV rep, let's cut my losses. I want to cancel NFL Sunday Ticket immediately. Take it off my bill.

And that's when the crazy bubbled over.

The rep said he sympathized with me and would ask a supervisor if he could cancel NFL Sunday Ticket for me. At least I would save $150 for the rest of 2018. I sucked it up for the other years I paid $300.

Remember that scene in Seinfeld where the rental car clerk pretends to talk to her boss to help Jerry resolve a problem? The DirecTV supervisor said I was hooked on NFL Sunday Ticket for the year. No backsies. I would continue to be charged. This is how crack dealers operate — except they have a better product than NFL games.

My turn: Then I'm quitting DirecTV, the whole thing. Where do I send your crap equipment? I am taking a knee to the NFL!

Suddenly, whoa, hang on Mr. Hoffman, let me connect you with our "loyalty and retention department." Or whatever DirecTV calls its Desperation Division.

Another rep came on the phone. To be fair, so far, both DirecTV people were calm and professional.

Direct...from your account
DirecTV still blamed me for the fiasco. I was an unobservant consumer. They said there was a line in one of my bills each year saying that I was renewing NFL Sunday Ticket, and I should have seen that.

He added, "I know you're on auto-pay and probably don't look at your bills."

Exactly! That's the whole idea of auto-pay. Again like Seinfeld, have you looked at one of these bills? There's about a hundred goofy numbers, percentage symbols and dollar signs on there. You don't know what you're paying for.

I know one thing I'm not paying for — for DirecTV to upgrade its service so my screen doesn't go black whenever it drizzles in Conroe. DirecTV is a fairweather friend.

Instead of notifying customers that they're automatically renewing NFL Sunday Ticket by slipping a line in one of its monthly bills, how about doing this? Put a big fat flashing message on my TV: "Do you want to receive NFL Sunday Ticket another year?"  

You know, like DirecTV does when you're late paying your bill. "Send us money or you'll never see Gina Gaston again!"

Here's another way DirecTV sneaks NFL Sunday Ticket past the goalie. During a typical week, I watch the NFL on NBC (Channel 2), CBS (Channel 11), Fox (Channel 26), and ESPN (Channel 216). Everybody knows those channels. But NFL Sunday Ticket games are on Channel 700 and above. Who watches anything on Channel 700 and above? The highest I ever go is Channel 501, that's HBO for Curb Your Enthusiasm, and Channel 545, that's Showtime for The Circus.

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The media has mixed feelings about the James Harden trade. Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

James Harden was 100-percent exactly right earlier this week when he said the Houston Rockets were "just not good enough."

How could they be? Not when their moody superstar scorer, who makes about half a million dollars per game, shows up chubby, looking like a kielbasa about to explode in the microwave. Hey, some people eat when they're unhappy, it's a defense mechanism. In Harden's case, the only defense he's exhibited this season. At least he had a good excuse for missing pre-season training camp and alienating his teammates - he was busy partying with Cinnamon and Cherish in Atlanta and Vegas without a mask. Worst of all, he went into the tank his last four games in a Rockets uniform, standing around, arms folded, scoring fewer than 20 points each time, all Rockets losses. Fans in the front row were asking him to move, he was blocking their view of players who cared about winning. James Harden sabotaged his own team, a team that offered him $50 million a year to stay. Something that crazy could only happen in professional sports these days.

There's a saying that drives the American labor movement: "a fair day's wage for a fair day's work." It's the motto of the American Federation of Labor. The National Basketball Players Association is not a member. Harden's sulking on the court, cheating the Rockets and their fans, was unforgivable.

Harden, sitting out games while somehow being on the court, forced the Rockets to trade him - and quick - to Brooklyn. The trade, when you ignore the fine print and unindicted co-conspirators Cleveland and Indiana, sent Harden to Brooklyn in exchange for Caris LeVert (immediately flipped for Victor Oladipo), Jarrett Allen, three first-round draft picks and four swapped first-rounders. It's true, when you trade a superstar, you never get back equal value. The other team wins.

If it makes Rockets fans feel any better, the media in New York already has problems with their new problem child. I should say newest problem child. Kyrie Irving plays for the Nets.

"They (the Nets) gave up everybody! There's nothing left now. I just want to cry, It's awful," weeped WFAN Radio talk host Evan Roberts. For those who don't subscribe to weekly Arbitron ratings reports, WFAN is the most powerful, top-rated sports talk station in the Apple.

"You're leading down the road of doom. Harden and Durant could be gone in a year and a half. I'm not convinced this gives them a better chance to win a title. I'm living a nightmare again. They better freaking win."

Circle March 3 on your Rockets schedule. That's when the Brooklyn Nets, with their Big 3 of Kevin Durant, James Harden and possibly Kyrie Irving visit Toyota Center. I hear talk radio salivating over the record jeers that will cascade over Harden's name, although I'm not buying it. Fans don't think like the media does. I'm thinking that Rockets fans will welcome Harden back - one night only - with cheers.

Toyota Center public address announcer Matt Thomas: "Usually when former Rockets come to town for the first time since leaving, I give them a positive introduction. It's up to the fans how to react."

James Harden spent eight seasons with the Rockets. He is a spectacular player who watched other NBA players engineer trades so they could compete for a title. Harden didn't think the Rockets were good enough, and he's right. So he wanted out. We've all been there, a job we didn't like for a company we didn't like, for a boss we didn't respect. Harden wanting to be traded is understandable. How he went about it was deplorable. He hurt his co-workers.

Houston will make Harden pay for his disrespectful departure. He has an upscale restaurant set to open here. The name of the steakhouse will be "13." Harden's business partners may want to change that number ... before the restaurant's telephone number is disconnected. There are plenty of other restaurants in Houston. Rich people who can afford steakhouse prices hold grudges.

Rockets fans searching for a silver lining say, "We got two decent players and a whole bunch of precious first-round picks" for a malcontent who would rather be anywhere (except maybe Sacramento) than Houston." Yes, a bunch of first-round picks does bode well for the future. Anywhere, except maybe Houston.

Houston's draft war room isn't the most successful operation in the NBA. Over the past decade prior to 2000, under the direction of general manager Daryl Morey, the Rockets made 16 draft picks. Not one of them is still in a Rockets uniform, many of them have sought employment outside of America, some outside of basketball. Among their first-round whiffs: Nikola Mirotic, Terrence Jones, Sam Dekker - all out of the league. Best of all, Royce White, who played three whole games in his NBA career and finished with a scoring average of 0.00 points per game.

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