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Ken Hoffman faces off with DirecTV about a costly premium choice

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 Astros rotation looks like a strength moving forward. Composite Getty Image.

The Houston Astros are coming off a much-needed series win over the White Sox, but have a quick turnaround as they host the Orioles on Friday night at Minute Maid Park.

The 'Stros dropped the first game of the series with Framber Valdez on the mound, but were able to rebound with Hunter Brown and Spencer Arrighetti starting the final two games.

Brown was brilliant once again, and Arrighetti bounced back after a disastrous start against the Tigers over the weekend. Despite all the injures to the Astros staff this season, their young pitchers are stepping up when they need them the most.

Brown has six consecutive quality starts and is beginning to show signs that he can be the top of the rotation pitcher the club always hoped he could develop into.

Arrighetti has stepped in and shown that he belongs in the big leagues, and has provided innings Houston desperately requires with so many pitchers on the injured list.

Speaking of which, with Justin Verlander on the IL, Double A prospect Jake Bloss will make the start for Houston on Friday night. Bloss has quickly progressed through the farm system, having been drafted just a year ago.

We'll see how he performs in his MLB debut, but the club seems to have a lot of quality pitching options moving forward, especially with Luis Garcia and Lance McCullers scheduled to return in late July and early August respectively.

And as we look at the Astros rotation moving forward, perhaps they will go back to a six-man rotation during certain stretches in the second half of the season.

Which could prove to be vital to the team's success. As good as Ronel Blanco has been, he's never pitched as many innings as he'll be asked to pitch this year. Same goes for Arrighetti. And let's face it, sending Verlander out to pitch on four days rest consistently at 41 years old doesn't sound like a wise decision. He's already been on the IL twice this year.

While some see Garcia and McCullers as wild cards to help the team this season, Astros GM Dana Brown doesn't see it that way. He told the Astros flagship station this week that he's counting on those guys to make big contributions when they return. And he's counting on their postseason experience should they get there.

Keep in mind, Garcia has a 3.61 career ERA and has been durable outside the Tommy John surgery. And McCullers has always been good, it's just the health that causes concern.

Garcia is also an example of how a player can skip Double A and Triple A and have success right away in the big leagues. Hopefully, Bloss can follow in his footsteps, since he's bypassing Triple A to make his first start.

So what's the short and long-term outlook for the Astros rotation? And should we expect Verlander to return in 2025?

Be sure to watch the video above as we address those questions and much more!

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