If you’re paying close attention to your monthly TV bill, you’ve probably noticed the Regional Sports Fee. Providers from Comcast Xfinity to DirecTV charge this fee. Even streaming providers like FuboTV are starting to add it. But what IS the Regional Sports Fee?

The short answer is that the Regional Sports Fee is a made up fee to jack up the price of your bill. TV operators want you to pay more money for your bill, but they want to have a low price to advertise in mailers and commercials. So, they promise you a great rate and in the fine print it says “plus taxes and fees.” When the bill comes, it’s way higher than you expected—a classic bait and switch. They sneak in extra fees like the Regional Sports Fee under “Taxes and Fees” so you’re more likely to think it’s a mandatory fee they’re just passing through from the government, like sales tax. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Where did the Regional Sports Fee come from?

While it is now a mainstay on cable and satellite TV bills, the regional sports fee was actually invented by DirecTV in 2012. Back then, they added a comparatively small fee—$3 a month—in New York and Los Angeles. They claimed this was necessary because those markets had more major local teams and it cost more for them to broadcast them.

What is the Regional Sports Fee for?

TV providers like Comcast and DirecTV buy programming from other media companies, bundle it, and then sell it as TV. And sports are especially expensive. So, in order to sell you 100 channels, they pay a little bit for each of them. For example, a major channel like NBC costs about $1.40 per subscriber per month, while a relatively unpopular channel like the Outdoor Channel, they might pay less than 10 cents a month per subscriber. A 2018 study found that sports channels cost $1.11 per subscriber per month, more than double the average of $.49 per subscriber for month for non-sports channels. And the biggest sports channel of all, ESPN, costs $7.46 per month on average. No other channel comes close: 

Most Expensive Channels for Cable Packages (Why Regional Sports Fees Exist)

Of course, the whole point of a cable or satellite TV package is that you pay a bundled rate. So, you pay $100 a month and you get NBC and the Outdoor Channel and ESPN. But back in 2012, DirecTV realized that they could put in an extra charge just for the sports channels and make extra money. That way, they could charge the same rate for the same channels, but get to keep more of it as profit.

Prices Pay-TV companies are paying for sports programming are increasing. But before you start feeling bad for cable companies, remember that they’ve also been increasing their overall price. Cable bills have gone up 250% since 1996, and risen at a rate almost double overall inflation. Plus, the Regional Sports Fee isn’t their only attempt to squeeze extra money out. They also charge a “Broadcast TV Fee” which can be as high as $18 a month! So, these companies are triple dipping: they charge you in your main bundle package for the cost of the channels, then layer a Broadcast TV fee and a Regional Sports Fee on top.

Plus, the claim behind a “Regional Sports Fee” is that you’re paying specifically the cost of sports in your region. However, an analysis of Regional Sports Fees by zip code found that DirecTV charges different fees per zip code even in the exact same sports markets with the exact same programming. Simply put: the “Regional” part of the Regional Sports Fee is a lie.

A map showing different regional sports fees in different zip codes. For example, $7.29 in zip code 85268 but $5.83 in zip code 85251.

Who charges Regional Sports Fees?

While almost all providers charge some form of made up fees like the Broadcast TV Surcharge, not all charge Regional Sports Fees. Here’s what some people are paying as of 2021:

Verizon Regional Sports Network Fee: $8.89

Cox Regional Sports Surcharge $8.00

Comcast Xfinity Regional Sports Fee: $10.75

DirecTV Regional Sports Network Fee: $9.99

Altice / Optimum Sports TV Fee: $9.00

Frontier Regional Sports Charge: $11.78

Of course, fees vary by location and they’re getting raised and renamed all the time. 

Do you have to pay for a Regional Sports Fee if you don’t watch sports channels?

Unfortunately, yes. Because almost all pay TV plans are bundles of channels, you can’t request an a la carte package that doesn’t include sports, and therefore doesn’t include sports fees. Of course, there are exceptions, but generally speaking, even if you hate sports, you’re stuck with a regional sports fee. 

Can you remove Regional Sports Fees?

The only way to remove Regional Sports Fees entirely is to cut the cord. Of course, if you subscribe to streaming sports alternatives, they’ll have monthly fees as well. However, even though there isn’t a way to negotiate the Regional Sports Fee itself, you can negotiate the overall price of the bill. So, if you can get a $10/month loyalty discount, you can essentially wipe out the Regional Sports Fee.

That’s what we recommend. If you don’t want to negotiate yourself, you can always hire BillFixers to negotiate with your TV provider for you and help offset the cost.

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Ben Kurland is one of the Co-Founders of BillFixers.