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Game On: Arrival Of Sports-related Packages Changes The Cable And Satellite Game

GAME ON: Arrival of sports-related packages changes the cable and satellite game

Not that long ago, frustrated fans of hockey, baseball, basketball and football simply had to stew over the fact that the game they wanted to watch wasn't available on, as it was deemed, "regular TV."

For football, that meant geography played a huge role in which games you saw; typically, your local team was the one of only two games available throughout an entire Sunday, plus the national game of the week that night and another one Monday night.

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As for baseball, you'd get to enjoy a hand-picked ESPN game on Sunday night and the best and worst from your hometown ball club.

But after a while, the game -- or games -- changed. Suddenly, sports wasn't just a pastime but rather a full-time endeavor for cable and satellite companies that used the crack of the bat and roar of the crowd to draw more customers to their services -- a new game plan that has paid huge dividends for all involved.

Perhaps no one is a bigger winner than Direct TV, which has exclusive rights to the crown jewel of paid sports packages: NFL Sunday Ticket. The combination of football's popularity and the rise of fantasy football has paved a clear path to the end zone for Direct TV in its sales and marketing of the football-driven entity. NFL Sunday Ticket is an all-encompassing series of channels that broadcast every football game each week, all of which are in high definition.

No longer are you stuck watching the game a broadcast network picked for you.

But not without a heft price tag: Direct TV pays hundreds of millions of dollars for the sole rights to NFL Sunday Ticket, but they certainly don't seem to mind. The inclusion of NFL Sunday Ticket allows Direct TV to market their cable services as a bundle, typically enticing football fans by offering the popular football package free when signing on with them.

Direct TV also carries MLB Extra Innings, which is conceptually the same as NFL Sunday Ticket only with baseball instead of football. The price tag for Extra Innings is roughly the same as NFL Sunday Ticket but, naturally thanks to the number of baseball games vs. football games, you get more for your money.

Comcast is a close second to Direct TV, as they carry MLB Extra Innings but not NFL Sunday Ticket. Comcast did invest in a Red Zone channel to help pump up their football coverage, but it's simply to quite the same. Dish Network is hardly in the game, with no NFL or MLB extras, although the do offer the NHL Center Ice -- again same idea as the baseball and football versions but not quite as popular based on the overall interest in hockey as a whole.

Those wondering or perhaps questioning just how much sports-driven packages matter to cable and satellite companies need only focus on the year 2014, when the Direct TV-NFL Sunday Ticket contract expires. Comcast, Dish Network and, of course, Direct TV have a bidding war looming and the back-and-forth action is going to rival that of a hard-nosed, tough-fought football game.
In the end, they'll be winners and losers when cable and satellite heavyweights jockey for position but ultimately the only outcome that matters is the one for the customer, sitting at home, relaxing and having their choice of any game imaginable.

And, feeling like the ultimate winner.

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