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ESPN Insider and Magazine Warning

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Two years ago, I excitedly told readers about a deal for two years of ESPN Insider (and magazine) for $9.

The deal was really for the magazine, but the magazine subscription comes with ESPN Insider for free. ESPN Insider is the premium content subscription on ESPN's properties (for those who aren't into sports).

If you are interested in ESPN's content this was an extremely good deal as ESPN Insider pricing appears to be (from my quick Google search):

* 1 Year Membership required (one payment of $39.95)
** 2 Year Membership required (one payment of $59.95)

One way to look at it is that the deal saved me $50. Perhaps a more accurate way to look at is that I wouldn't have bought it at the $60 price anyway. I'd surely say that I got more than $4.50 of value over the two years from it.

Everything was good, but (as you may be able to guess) that was two years ago on a 2-year subscription.

Last week, I got an email that the subscription was up for renewal. Specifically it said:

This is just a friendly reminder that your ESPN Insider account is in excellent standing and your subscription will automatically renew on Sunday, June 19, 2016.

Your Insider subscription includes the best content and analysis ESPN has to offer, plus great tools devoted to fantasy sports, odds, info and more. Plus, your Insider rate includes a subscription to ESPN the Magazine - all this for just $44.95!

As a benefit, your service will continue, uninterrupted, so you won't miss out on any great premium content you get with ESPN Insider and The Magazine. Your credit card will be charged at the beginning of the service period and you will continue to receive all the great subscriber benefits you've come to enjoy.

To make sure you continue to receive your Insider subscription, we ask you take a few seconds to verify your payment information. You can click here to verify your payment details

If, at any time, you are unsatisfied with your subscription and would like to cancel, please contact ESPN Customer Care at 1-888-549-3776.

Thank you for subscribing to ESPN The Magazine and Insider!

I appreciate the "friendly reminder" about the standing of my ESPN Insider account, but it was new information to me that it was set for automatic renewal. Another piece of new information was that it would be nearly $45. It's unclear to me if that is for the same 2-year term or if that was an annual price like many magazines.

This sales model is the continuity sales model and it puts the onus on you to cancel.

I'm sure that there's a large number of people who get busy and don't act right away on this on email. After all, it came in Sunday night at 8PM when I'm more in leisure mode. I remember thinking, well, it's been two years I'm 95% sure my credit card has a new expiration date (especially since I'm almost converted to all "chip" cards) so good luck to them.

Obviously, being lazy and depending on the credit card expiration is my fault. I just didn't understand why I was presented with this hassle anyway.

After all, if you read my article, I didn't cite that you'd sign up automatic renewals at $45. If I had seen that I would have clearly warned you (like I'm doing now). Furthermore the SlickDeals thread I cited also made no mention of it... and these are dozens of people who are extremely vigilant for the "gotcha's" in any deal.

I'm not claiming that there wasn't notification, just that I didn't see it... and it looks like many others either didn't see it as well or uncharacteristically chose not to point it out. More on this later...

Much to my surprise, I got an email that the billing went through. I had used my Paypal account to pay for it. I hadn't thought about that since I rarely use Paypal account and the email specifically said my credit card. So much for relying on the expiring credit card.

I immediately responded back to the charge explaining that I wished to cancel and that I didn't knowingly authorize this charge.

Soon after, I got a response that I couldn't cancel via email "the privacy and protection of [my] account." I thought this was unusual, since there's no real privacy risk of me email them and my account wouldn't be unprotected in any way. I'm clearly the account holder as I've received the billing statement and am responding back from the account on which the billing statement was sent.

I immediately figured this was their plan to increase breakage... if you have to call, navigate phone trees, and wait for an operator, there's a chance you might put it off or just give up.

Fine... I've got speaker phone, so game on.

I call up and navigate the phone tree... it was actually one of the easiest phone trees. I think I only pressed "3". Then I waited for a customer support representative. Again, it was refreshing... probably only took 2-3 minutes.

We had a little difficulty looking up my account, but that's because I thought I had signed up with the same email as my Paypal account, but I didn't. Again, this was my fault and we eventually located my account. He asked why I was cancelling and made an offer of something around half price to keep me.

I wasn't interested and explained that I didn't like how it assumed that I automatically wanted to renew at ~$45 something that I paid $9 for. He said it was in the terms and conditions. I said that I would have tried to opt-out of it if I had seen it. (I wish I had screenshots or something to see how clearly the automatic renewal language was.) He explained that opting out of the automatic renewals is not an option.

We agreed to cancel and he canceled it almost instantly and said the $44.95 would be refunded in a few business days. All in all, if it was an attempt at breakage, they definitely did their best to make it as easy as possible to cancel and get refunded once I made the call.

So I guess that's the price of getting ESPN Insider and the Magazine for two years at $9. I guess I'm happy to take advantage of it. It's not evil and I don't think it is a scam or anything, but I think it is a bit of an unsavory business model. Maybe it's a little like credit cards where if you play it smart and stay on top of it, you can reap rewards. If you let things slip, you may end up paying for something that you didn't know about.

What do you think?

Posted on June 21, 2016.

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5 Responses to “ESPN Insider and Magazine Warning”

  1. Terri says:

    I’ve had the same thing happen with two magazines that I didn’t realize were auto renewals. I was able to stop one and the other ran into a brick wall because my banking info had changed.It’s a ridiculous way of doing business.

  2. Big-D says:

    Don’t be sure that if you get new cards, that the old one won’t work. When mine were going through CHIP and PIN conversation my company kept the old cards for several months to make sure that monthly or infrequent charges went through. I had a newegg.com charge go through because someone hacked my account on a card that had been disabled almost a year prior. Yes AMEX made it good (as did Newegg) but just make sure that your old cards are dead (Jim).

    • Terri says:

      Thanks, Big-D. I thought there was a chance that could happen so I kept checking my account. Fortunately the charges never showed up. I think I’ll keep an eye on it though, just to be safe.

  3. Steve says:

    I worked at a website that had a subscription product (to get rid of the ads that were the main source of revenue). For a long time they offered the first year at “half price” and then auto-renewed people into full price. However so many people called in and demanded the original half price, or worse a full refund, that they eventually decided to just make that the regular price.

    From that experience, I also know that there’s a system in the credit card industry for disseminating updated credit card numbers and expiration dates for just the purpose of keeping subscriptions going. Expiration date may even be an optional field – so if it was wrong or missing, the transaction could still go through.

    • Lazy Man says:

      Steve, that is an A+ comment… I had no idea.

      It seems like it could be a pretty dangerous privacy issue to have credit cards and expiration dates kept open?

      I once wrote some software for a start-up to take payment through Authorize.net and it required the expiration date as well as billing zip (and I think something else) to match. I guess payment gateways may be able to secure things in their own ways. I was just used to everything needing an expiration date.

      It’s also great information about the insight into pricing. There’s probably a great book out there on the psychology of pricing and maximizing profit. For example, there’s a perceived higher value if the regular price is $40, but it’s discounted to $20. So how many people decide to sign up for the discount price, just because they think, “I’m getting a deal here!”

      If anyone knows a great source on this, I’d love to dig into it.

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