TV TIMEOUT

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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Houston loses first game to Oakland

A's end losing streak against Astros with late homers

Lance McCullers Jr. went five innings of one-run ball Friday night. Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

After maintaining their stronghold against the A's in Thursday's home opener, the Astros had the chance to lock up the three-game series victory against Oakland with a win on Friday night. On the mound, Lance McCullers Jr. hoped to improve upon his first start against this same team, a five-inning one-run outing.

Instead, he would have the same outcome, once again lasting five innings while allowing one run, before a big tie-breaking home run late in the game would push Oakland out of their losing skid against the Astros.

Final Score: A's 6, Astros 2

Astros' Record: 6-2, tied for first in AL West

Winning Pitcher: Yusmeiro Petit (2-0)

Losing Pitcher: Bryan Abreu (1-1)

McCullers Jr. makes it through five

McCullers Jr. looked sharp through the first three innings, allowing just two baserunners, one on a second-inning single, then a walk in the third. Oakland did better against him the second time through their order in the fourth, with Jed Lowrie leading the inning off with a solo home run to put Oakland in front 1-0.

They went on to load the bases with one out on an error and two walks, but McCullers would strand them all. He returned for the fifth, a much cleaner inning where a caught stealing by Martin Maldonado would help him face just three batters. His final line: 5.0 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 3 BB, 6 K, 88 P.

Oakland gets homer-happy to even the series

McCullers Jr. would leave the game without being eligible for the winning or losing decision, as an RBI-groundout by Kyle Tucker in the fourth would have it tied 1-1. Bryan Abreu was the first out of Houston's bullpen, and he would attempt to eat up multiple innings. He had perfect innings in the sixth and seventh, retiring six A's in order to maintain the stalemate.

Abreu remained in the game in the top of the eighth, allowing a single before getting a strikeout, ending his run as Dusty Baker would bring in left-handed Blake Taylor. Taylor would give up a single against his first batter, then a loud go-ahead three-run home run to Matt Olson to push the A's back in front 4-1. They'd add two more insurance runs off of Joe Smith in the top of the ninth, getting a two-run home run by Mark Canha to extend the lead to 6-1.

Oakland's bullpen would hold on to the newly created lead, allowing just one run on a sac fly by Jose Altuve in the bottom of the ninth, finally ending their losing streak against Houston and setting up the rubber game on Saturday to be for the series victory.

Up Next: This series's finale will be a Saturday afternoon start, with first pitch scheduled for 3:05 PM. For the Astros, Jose Urquidy (0-0, 4.15 ERA) will look to get a win on the board, while Oakland will hand the ball to Frankie Montas (0-1, 23.63 ERA).

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