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You pay for pricey sports programming even if you're not much of a fan

Consumer Reports News: March 30, 2013 09:08 AM

The 2013 Major League Baseball season gets under way on March 31, with the Houston Astros taking on the Texas Rangers. For millions of Americans, the return of baseball means tuning in to ESPN, Fox, MLB Network, and regional sports channels to watch their favorite team in action.

But if you're not a baseball watcher (or a viewer of any sport, for that matter), the clarion cry of "Play ball!" is more like "Pay ball!" That's because sports channels such as ESPN are probably the priciest programming in your TV package, except for premium offerings, and there's often no palatable way to cut that cost.

Where most cable channels account for pennies per month of your programming bill, ESPN commands $5 of the average expanded-basic monthly TV bill. Providers pay another $2.50 or so a month for a regional sports network, according to SNL Kagan, a news and data service in Charlottesville, Va.

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Because of the high cost of sports programming, some providers are adding sports-related surcharges: Cablevision, Verizon FiOS, and DirecTV are charging subscribers $2 to $3 a month for access to regional sports networks.

With sports resisters increasingly aware of just how much they are paying for channels they never watch, TV providers are offering new ways to reduce your bill. But they require tradeoffs you might not be willing to make.

Some carriers now have programming tiers without ESPN and Fox Sports Net, but they lack other channels, too. Dish Network's $20-a-month Smart Pack of 55 "family friendly" stations, for instance, doesn't include CNN, Disney, the History Channel, MSNBC, TNT, or USA, among other popular channels.

And Verizon FiOS' Select HD package of 140-plus channels, more than 30 of them in HD, is missing Fox News, TNT, "and a few other notables," the company said on its website. Select HD costs $50 a month. That's a great price, but you might prefer to spend $15 a month more for Prime HD, which has 210-plus channels, more than 55 of them in HD, including ESPN.

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