12.27.2007

Rocky's Football Corner, 12.26.2007

by Rick Rockwell

The National Football League (NFL) got smart late today.

In an unprecedented move, the league announced that Saturday’s game between the New England Patriots and New York Giants would be televised on three separate television networks.

This is not just due to the interest and hype surrounding the game (some fans of the Giants are saying the game is like a miniature version of the Super Bowl). This is about the NFL bowing to pressure, but also thinking creatively in its feud with the cable television industry.

Until late on Wednesday, the league was about to cablecast a historic game but about 60 percent of the league’s fans nationwide would not have been able to see the telecast. The league has made various entreaties to the cable cartel, but so far those offers were turned down, at the fans’ expense. But in the spirit of giving, the league has come up with a unique solution: give the game away. This is how you build support. Not only was this the smart public relations move, it was the right thing to do.

Why all this interest? Well, for those who haven’t been tuned in this season, the Patriots are trying to become the first team with a perfect record in a 16-game NFL season. Only the Giants stand in the way. The inconsistent, but talented Giants, are hurting, but with a huge national audience awaiting, the Giants could be enticed into giving the Patriots a game, even though it doesn’t help (and some would argue it might hurt) the Giants’ playoff prospects.

As football analyst John Madden noted weeks ago, somehow the league had to figure out a way for this game to go to the widest possible audience.

So now the Patriots’ quest for perfection will be beamed to America via NBC, CBS, and the league’s NFL Network. (The broadcast networks will not pay for the additional game rights and all three networks will get to sell and profit from the commercials in an amicable split.)

This solution breaks the logjam between league and cable cartel, at least for now. This column has written many times about this dispute, going back more than a year. What it boils down to is the cable cartel wants to charge exorbitant rates for the NFL Network and put it on specialized sports tiers. Such arrangements keep the network, which broadcasts eight regular season games, from being seen by most football fans.

And the mess isn’t entirely fixed. The NFL Network holds the exclusive rights to the Texas Bowl (Houston vs. Texas Christian University), the Insight Bowl (Indiana vs. Oklahoma State), and the Senior Bowl, a college all-star game. How college fans will gain access to those games remains undetermined. Last year, the NFL managed to negotiate limited cable access to its network with the cable cartel to allow broad distribution of the league’s coverage of the college games. So far, this year, the cable cartel hasn’t been willing to compromise.

On all these issues, the league had offered to take the dispute to binding legal arbitration. But the cable cartel dismissed that offer.

That uncompromising position is why the NFL called today’s end-run.

The league also bowed to pressure. Earlier this month, Sen. Arlen Specter (R-PA) and Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) warned that the league’s anti-trust exemption may be at issue unless the NFL found a way to resolve the dispute. Some also credit the work of Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) who sent a letter to both the league and the lobbying group for the cable industry. Kerry has pressed on this issue both publicly and privately. Of course, Leahy and Kerry have a vested interest as the Patriots are from their region. But credit where credit is due: their pressure did get the league moving.

This time the politicians did more than spout hot air. They actually moved the league to give the fans a gift. And even if this dispute isn’t over, we are thankful for the short-term solution.

(Editor’s Note: The original rant on the NFL Network that occupied this space was pulled as it was filed almost simultaneously with the league’s announcement. The original was here for under 30 minutes, and this update is in keeping with today’s changing news on this topic.)

Week 17 Office Pool Predictions

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

Last Week: .750
This Season: .667


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2 comments:

Anonymous said...

The NFL moved for one reason only, the political threats to remove the anti trust exemption.

I find it unbelievable, that given that the owners operate under the anti trust exemption, which essentially frees them from operating in a true free market, that they have so brazenly decided to step up their monopoly behavior, in effect, spitting in the face of fans.

The anti trust exemption should be removed. Let these owners operate in a true free market.

Rick Rockwell said...

In this on-going story there are usually mostly bad guys. Who do you really want to cheer for here: the regional monopolies (the cable cartel) or the vertically integrated entertainment enterprise (sports teams and leagues)? In the end as the elephants tussle, the mice (the fans) get stomped. This is one of the rare times the mice win. But we have said as much before.

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