Rocky's Football Corner, 11.14.2007

by Rick Rockwell

The battle of the titans forces the long absent column portion of this weekly feature back, at least temporarily.*

And no, this does not involve a rematch between the Indianapolis Colts and the New England Patriots.

The titans are much larger: the National Football League (NFL) and the U.S. cable industry.

Next week, the NFL rolls out an eight-game package that viewers will only be able to see on the NFL Network. The problem is that some of the biggest cable providers in the country, such as Comcast and Time-Warner, refuse to make these games available on the basic cable tier. They want the NFL Network to stay on premium channels. (Comcast won a suit in New York against the NFL network which has been used as a precedent to allow cable networks to put the channel on premium sports tiers.) This move forces consumers to pay more to the cable networks or go without this package of NFL games. And likely the Colts' match-up against the Atlanta Falcons on Thanksgiving night will be the first casualty in this tug-of-war. (If trends hold though, that should be a roll-over game, with the Colts winning, even against the improving Falcons. So some might ask: what’s the loss?)

However, some communities in Wisconsin and Texas are already angry about how they will be deprived of the game between the Green Bay Packers and Dallas Cowboys later this month. Those are only the two best teams in the National Football Conference (NFC). (The NFL has asked the owner of the Cowboys, Jerry Jones, to lobby and stir up more public concern about this issue.) And how about the Patriots' game against the New York Giants on Dec. 29, the last week of the season? Isn’t that potentially a huge contest if the Patriots are still undefeated, and the Giants are in contention for a wild card berth? But viewers won't be able to see it if they don't pay for premium cable. (Last year, this affected about 52 million viewers who were deprived of games, which is about 60 percent of all of the league's viewers.)

And it’s not just NFL games. The NFL acquired the rights to broadcast the Texas Bowl, a college match-up and the Senior Bowl, a college all-star game. (Last year, the NFL bowed to political pressure and offered the games to the cable cartel for free. For more on the NFL using the college games as leverage against the cable cartel, please go here.)

This battle between the NFL and the cable industry isn’t new. It just hasn’t been resolved, which should anger consumers all the more. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has failed to step into the dispute.

However, the FCC is making noises about new regulations to cut the power of the cable monopolies. Those regulations would limit how many local and regional cable systems the cable firms could own, and it would also regulate access to the cable networks, which is really what the NFL dispute is all about. However, those wider regulations probably won’t have an effect on this football season.

Consumers can point fingers at all involved and make a case: government, the league, and the cable cartel are all at fault for this mess. Congress or the FCC should have stepped in long ago to resolve this and make sure consumers have access to all the games, or, at least, they should have seriously threatened the cable firms. (Some states, such as Texas, are considering legislation because the federal government has failed to act.) The greed of both the cable cartel and the NFL is also behind this mess. Some in Congress want to look at anti-trust issues because the NFL is practicing vertical integration with its product: the games. (Check here, to see what this column had to say on anti-trust and the NFL.) But the real culprits are the cable firms that want to wring as much money as possible from sports fans, a policy which actually limits viewing to only the comfortable class.

Unfortunately, our crying about this issue won’t fix the problem. The message: get used to the fact the greedy and the powerful ignore the rest of us. That seems to be the way things work these days.

*Of course, the coin flip nature of the predictions here last week are also an inspiration to change the equation.

Week 11 Office Pool Predictions

Game of the Week: Panthers at Packers (Packers)
Upset Special: Giants at Lions (Giants)
Raiders at Vikings (Vikings)
Buccaneers at Falcons (Falcons)
Rams at 49ers (49ers)
Titans at Broncos (Titans)
Chargers at Jaguars (Jaguars)
Browns at Ravens (Browns)
Cardinals at Bengals (Bengals)
Bears at Seahawks (Seahawks)
Chiefs at Colts (Colts)
Saints at Texans (Saints)
Patriots at Bills (Patriots)
Steelers at Jets (Steelers)
Washington at Cowboys (Cowboys)
Dolphins at Eagles (Eagles)

Last Week: .500
This Season: .681

For other blogs calling NFL games, please see:

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Mike in Portland said...

Speaking of sports and media cartels, Portlanders are annoyed with a recent change by dominant local cable provider Comcast. Comcast bumped MSNBC from the basic lineup -- to the alarm of local progressives -- to make way for an Oregon sports network that carries the Blazers, Oregon and Oregon State, et al. But the shift of Blazers games to a cable-only format means all the satellite subscribers can't see them. Of course, this suits Comcast fine. The Blazers so far are resisting efforts to make the games more widely available.

Jeff Siegel said...

Let's see -- the NFL owners and players are a bunch of greedy bastards. The cable companies are probably a little more evil, but it's the difference between the Emperor and Darth Vader. Either one will slit your throat and ask you to thank them for doing it. And the FCC? Don't make me laugh.

Sounds like all those football fans out there are screwed.

Rick Rockwell said...

Great to see my pals here in the "corner" for a discussion.

Yes, corporate sports and corporate media take advantage of the fans. And still we flip on the set, get a brew, and watch the game.

I think this has something to do with the "bread and circuses" model of controlling society.

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