New Article:12.28.07....How Cable Sacked the NFL


Registered User
Jan 26, 2005
The NFL punted. It may be the most powerful sports league in the country, but it failed to stiff-arm the big cable companies into carrying the NFL Network on the league's terms. So sophomore NFL commish Roger Goodell made a veteran call in deciding to let NBC and CBS simulcast Saturday night's New England Patriots-New York Giants game. That game, in case you never get past Discovery Channel, could produce the NFL's first 16-0 season if the favored Pats dispatch the Giants, who have already qualified for the playoffs. "We have taken this extraordinary step because it is in the best interest of our fans," Goodell said.

The NFL hasn't backed down from its game plan to force cable giants Cablevision and Time Warner Cable (which is controlled by TIME's parent, Time Warner), to pay up something like 70 cents a subscriber and make the NFL Network part of the basic programming tier. That would in turn prompt the cable companies to raise rates by at least as much. The cable guys have refused that price, leaving the NFL Network either without a channel or relegated to the sports tier by Comcast for a monthly fee, potentially depriving the league of hundreds of millions in revenue. "The only channel devoted 24/7 to America's favorite sport is not programming that should be relegated to a poorly promoted, pay-extra sports tier that takes advantage of our fans' passion for the NFL," huffed Steve Bornstein, the NFL Network's boss.

The cable guys have refused to meet the NFL's asking price because other than the eight Thursday night games that the NFL Network broadcasts, the rest of the programming is second-string — and that's being kind. They also didn't like the fact that the NFL has so far refused to sell the cable outfits its Sunday Ticket package, available only on satellite, which lets viewers watch any NFL game. Goodell attempted a beautiful end around by offering the Pats-Giants game to Time Warner Cable and Cablevision in return for all parties entering into binding arbitration to resolve the carriage issue. But the cable guys weren't biting at the prospect of a zero-sum outcome.

This in itself created some historic irony — the cable companies absolutely refusing to impose a price increase on their hapless customers. And that isn't the only strange play in this gridiron battle. The league has succeeded in accomplishing something unique, something unheard-of in the history of modern media: getting consumers and politicians to side with the cable companies.

Sen. Arlen Specter was hearing from constituents in Western Pennsylvania who were going to get shut out of the Steelers-St. Louis Rams game on Dec. 20, critical to the Steelers playoff hopes. In Western Pennsylvania only two things matter in the fall: deer season and the Men of Steel. So Specter shot off little note to Goodell co-authored by Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy, whose constituents were now faced with the prospect of watching the snow pile up instead of the Pats running it up against the Giants this Saturday. Their message: if the NFL would like to keep its antitrust immunity intact, perhaps it had better play ball with everyone. "Now that the NFL is adopting strategies to limit distribution of game programming to their own networks, Congress may need to reexamine the need and desirability of their continued exemption from the Nation's antitrust laws," warned a letter to Goodell from the solons. Sen. John Kerry also blitzed, inviting Goodell to discuss the situation before the Senate Commerce Committee

So the Commish caved, and basically gave the game away to two of its national broadcast partners, CBS and NBC; as the league has done with all its Network games, the local stations in the home markets of both teams will also still get to air the broadcast. "We appreciate CBS and NBC delivering the NFL Network telecast on Saturday night to the broad audience that deserves to see this potentially historic game. Our commitment to the NFL Network is stronger than ever." In other words, Goodell is playing defense now, but the business game of NFL Network vs. Cable is far from over. Hey, the man didn't get where he is by playing without a helmet.,8599,1698796,00.html