I love sports, I really do. Not all sports mind you, just the typical "favorites" of Americans, namely the MLB, NFL, NCAA basketball, and major golf tournaments (or any tournament that Tiger happens to have a chance to win, which is just about all of them). But I do hold one thing against the major professional sports, and that is their love of exclusivity. I'm sure it's great for them, and provides them a plethora of financial reasons, but it leaves the fans on the short-end of a stinky stick (a plunger, perhaps). Don't get me wrong, I really don't care if Pepsi is the official soft drink of the NFL, or that Budweiser is the official beer sponsor of Major League Baseball. Honestly, who sponsors the various sports leagues has little effect on my consumer dollars, especially since nothing forces fans to purchase from one sponsor or another. No, my beef is when it does affect consumers and their buying options, namely: video games, sports cards, and viewing games on TV.
I'm sure the playing of sports games on consoles is of little consequence to most, as well as which company is making the league's sports cards, but the viewing of games does have a larger effect on fans everywhere. I'm sure most of you are aware of the NFL's contract with DirecTV which offers the satellite company exclusive rights to the NFL Sunday Ticket package. Not only does DirecTV have exclusivity for providing all Sunday afternoon NFL games (with certain blackout restrictions), but they will also have the rights through 2014 (paying $4 billion for the extension in March of 2009). Who loses in this case? Football fans of all ages. Sure, you can still view your local team through your local stations, but what about the Bears fan living in Louisiana? Or the Lions fan living in Texas? Good luck catching many of their games without DirecTV. And really, haven't fans of the Lions been through enough without that added insult (actually, maybe they're better off not watching Lions' games lately).
Many will argue that fans still have a choice - you can always switch from cable to DirecTV after all. But if you don't have a clear line of sight facing South, you're out of luck. Let's face it, the NFL doesn't do this to make it better for the fans, they do it to make it better for their pocketbooks. And I have nothing against companies or sports leagues making money, but there should still be a desire to do what's best for the fans and for the league, which should both be possible in this case. And the NFL isn't the only league giving their fans the middle finger. No, MLB briefly had an exclusive deal with DirecTV for their MLB Extra Innings package as well. But, due to public outcry and political pressure, MLB finally offered the package to other cable companies and Dish Network, reliant upon the companies adding the new MLB Network channel. Most companies kowtowed to this demand, although Dish Network refused to meet MLB's demands and at this time does not offer the package.
And what about those other exclusive deals? The sports leagues are also increasing their pocket change with exclusive video game deals. Everyone knows of the Madden NFL franchise, and for quite a while that's the only licensed football game that you will hear about. EA Sports (the makers of Madden) signed a deal with the NFL a few years ago which gives them exclusivity in offering NFL licensed games (the deal has been extended through 2012). They also have an exclusive deal with NCAA for their football games. Not to be outdone, Major League Baseball also gave an exclusive (3rd party) contract to 2K Sports, which essentially shut down their competition at EA Sports and their MVP franchise (the best baseball game at the time, in my opinion).
So now fans and gamers are left with fewer options, and watered down offerings. After all, what's the incentive to make a truly great game when you have no competition breathing down your neck? When you're the only game in town, and you know you're going to get business regardless, it's not out of the realm of possibility to imagine these companies don't put as much thought into their products (or worry about offering their products for more affordable prices) when they have no competition.
And just to make sure that these leagues were equally cruel to adults, teenagers, and children, they're also licensing their sports cards exclusively. Gone are the days of options and the tough decision between selecting Upper Deck and Donruss for your baseball card buying dollars. MLB recently announced a deal with Topps that grants them exclusive use of MLB logos, as well as other intellectual property. Woohoo, let's hope they bring back the bubble gum! As a former baseball card collector, I couldn't help but shake my head in disappointment over this latest sell-out by baseball. And again, in apparent solidarity, the NBA and NHL have entered similar exclusive contracts over the past few years. While some will say that these sports card exclusive contracts will reduce a cluttered market, that didn't have to be the only way. If MLB (and the other leagues) were interested in providing fans with good products, while also reducing the amount of offerings, they could have offered contracts which limited how many offerings each company could provide.
While I'm not a fan of exclusive contracts, at least not when they limit the fans' buying options, I don't have anything against corporations and the sports leagues from making a few bucks. Heck, I don't blame these companies for wanting the exclusive contracts. In fact, if I was in charge of these companies, I would try for the exact same deal in order to gain a larger market share. No, I blame the sports leagues for allowing this to happen. In a world where every deal is exclusive, the only thing that is guaranteed is that many fans will be left wanting more. After all, the only thing that should be exclusive in sports is a fan's love of their favorite team.