Rocky's Football Corner, 11.28.2007

by Rick Rockwell

Tomorrow, perhaps the second best game of the National Football League’s season will be played, and only forty percent of the country’s fans will be able to see it.

As usual though, this column is about more than the Green Bay Packers playing the Dallas Cowboys. This is another sequel in the long running war between the National Football League (NFL) and the cable TV industry.

Today, one of the best sportswriters in the land opined about this clash, and more or less took the side of the cable industry. This author is saddened and disappointed to report that Frank Deford of National Public Radio (NPR) and Sports Illustrated got his facts wrong.

Deford rightly noted that the league decided to keep these games for its own network, which some see as greedy and selfish. But the games are the league’s most valuable product. The league could have sold the eight games it reserved (and the Packers-Cowboys clash is one of those) to the broadcast networks and reaped millions more. Instead, the league gambled by putting the games on its network in an attempt to leverage the cable cartel into paying a particular rate and forcing the cartel to put the games on basic cable. Instead, the cable cartel balked and now the NFL Network is usually found on special sports cable tiers that cost consumers extra cash.

And so far, those are the real losers in this battle, sports consumers.

But sounding elitist, Deford took football fans to task for looking at the privilege of viewing football games as a right. He’s correct. No one is guaranteed television access to a football game. However, because sports consumers have become accustomed to seeing the best games on broadcast television, many will feel slighted that their access to this important game is being denied by the legal clash between the league and the cable cartel. And they will feel especially aggrieved because this is not a new battle, but one that has been dragging on for more than a year, with no resolution from Congress, the courts, or the Federal Communication Commission (FCC).

Where Deford went wrong is with his math. He portrayed sports fans as being unwilling to cough up a measly 70 cents a month more to get access to the games. The charge is actually (depending on the cable system) as little as five dollars extra a month, to $17 more per month. That is an additional cost of $200 per year. For some, that’s too much of a luxury.

Don’t expect resolution of this any time soon. The FCC passed on an opportunity this week to regulate cable. Part of the reason the commission punted was this thorny issue and some muscling by members of Congress who would likely have pushed to override the FCC. For example, this week, House Minority Leader John Boehner led a pack of Republicans criticizing the FCC's move toward further regulation. Also, four influential Republican Senators sent a letter to the commission warning that the FCC should not consider regulating cable.

Just for the record, here are the names of those Senators (and links to their websites for fans who may want to mail them an opinion) who also seem to be siding with the cable cartel:

  • Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas (this shows that the NFL’s pointman on the cable debate, Jerry Jones, the owner of the Cowboys, has little pull with at least one of his Senators);
  • John Sununu of New Hampshire (Patriots fans take note);
  • Jim DeMint of South Carolina (Panthers fans take note); and
  • Gordon Smith of Oregon (whose state does not have an NFL franchise but fans should bombard his mailbox nevertheless).
Oh, and by the way, Boehner represents the Eighth District in Ohio, which is pressed hard against the Indiana border (that actually explains a lot) so it is hard to tell if folks from his district cheer for the Bengals, Browns or Colts. But fans of all three should drop him a line for good measure.

Let’s be clear: both the league and the cable cartel are responsible for this problem, but there’s no reason fans should not complain vociferously to all connected to this snafu.

Week 13 Office Pool Predictions

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

Last Week: .625
This Season: .670

For other blogs calling NFL games, please see:

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Josh said...

So, I'm really excited about tonight's game. As a huge Packers fan I'm really hoping for some kind of miracle blowout. It sucks that we have to play in Dallas, its a difficult place to play at and I think Favre has never won in Dallas... has he? Today might be the day, its like watching the old packers team again and Favre is better than ever. I just took NFL odds on the Pack +7 points which I think is a sure winner. GO PACKERS!!!

Rick Rockwell said...

Well, I realize this comment is probably only partially heartfelt as it seems to be more promotional than anything else.

But who am I to quibble about these things, and josh's selections when this column had its worst week predicting games all season?

Beyond the odds, who doesn't want Favre to succeed this year? As I told several folks, my head told me to pick the Cowboys (and I'm glad I did!) but my heart is with the Packers.

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