NFL: Week Ten, 2008

by Rick Rockwell

(Editor's Note: This week an actual column! But don't despair, the picks are after the jump....)

If it’s November, it must be time for our annual tussle over the NFL Network.

Frankly, this author is tired of writing about this issue. But the readers lap this story up so it is not our place to question, but to merely serve. Perhaps it makes good reading because the story is filled with bad guys, and usually nary a white hat is to be seen.

If you haven’t tuned into this on-going soap opera, here’s a runthrough of the key characters. First, there’s America’s football monopoly, the National Football League (NFL). Then there’s America’s cable cartel led by Comcast. Finally, there’s America’s do-nothing Congress, represented by members of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Those are the major players, but there’s also the spineless broadcasting bureaucrats at the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and the courts.

When the Denver Broncos and Cleveland Browns clash tomorrow, only viewers who can see the NFL Network will be able to see the game. That means about 60 percent of regular NFL viewers will be shut out. Those fans don’t have satellite television, or they don’t pay a premium rate for a special sports tier on cable television, or they don’t live in Denver or Cleveland, and the surrounding television market areas. The fans are the victims here. But they are not a player in this dispute, really. More like an imprisoned audience being slowly tortured.

The plot of this soap opera is simple. It’s about greed. Money. Moolah. Why else would so many bad actors converge in one place?

For those who want more details, we have plenty in the archives. However, it starts with the behemoth football monopoly. Not satisfied with the revenues from its broadcast contracts (the richest in pro sports, by the way) the league starts its own cable channel with dreams of extra revenues dancing in the heads of the 32 team owners. Critics say this is just the intermediary step to making some games only viewable like pay-per-view. The league counters that it actually took less in its last television contract to hold out a certain number of games and gamble on a 24/7 channel for fans who can’t get enough football.

Enter the cable cartel. Led by Comcast, the cable giants, who spend a lot more on lobbying Congress than many industries, don’t like the terms the NFL offers for its channel. So they kick it over to expensive sports tiers where fewer fans will see the league's channel or pay for it, but the cartel can more than make back its investment, because football is America’s most popular pro sport. Their reasoning: if fans really want those games, they’ll pay a premium.

Except fans, not wanting to lose NFL games on so-called “free” over-the-air television, have instead turned to complaining rather than pay.

So thus enters Congress. Led by Sen. Arlen Specter (R-PA), members of the Judiciary Committee in the Senate have grumbled and warned the NFL for the past two years to fix the problem. Specter has threatened to rescind the NFL’s anti-trust exemption. But the committee has done very little other than voice its own displeasure. As a sop to this pressure, the NFL has struck deals to put important games like the Patriots-Giants clash at the end of last season on broadcast television, and not cable.

Recently, 13 Senators sent a letter to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell complaining about the problem yet again, requesting resolution of the dispute, and asking Goodell to widen the area considered as a home market for fans to see the games for free (such as widening the market for Patriots fans beyond Boston). However, the Senators, for the most part come off sounding like shills for the big cable cartel lobbyists. But then there’s the signature of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) on that letter too. Sanders is the Senate’s only real socialist, so perhaps reconsideration is due: maybe he is the only one with the fans’ true interests in mind.

But unless Congress holds a special session don’t look for any movement on this issue again for another season.

As predicted here last winter, the courts may be the best answer (Comcast and the NFL have a case in court in New York) but the courts have moved slowly (although not as slowly as the FCC or Congress). So more teeth grinding is ahead for fans.

So if you want to see that Broncos-Cleveland game, time to pony up some extra cash to the cable cartel.

Week 10 Office Pool Predictions

Game of the Week: Giants at Eagles (Eagles)
Upset Special:
Broncos at Browns (Broncos)

Rams at Jets (Jets)
Seahawks at Dolphins (Dolphins)
Saints at Falcons (Falcons)
Colts at Steelers (Steelers)
Packers at Vikings (Vikings)
Bills at Patriots (Patriots)
Titans at Bears (Titans)
Chiefs at Chargers (Chargers)
Ravens at Texans (Ravens)
Jaguars at Lions (Jaguars)
Panthers at Raiders (Panthers)
49ers at Cardinals (Cardinals)

Last Week: .714
2008 Season: .654

For other blogs calling NFL games, please see:

  • The D.C. Universe,
  • Gun Toting Liberal, and
  • The Liberal Journal.

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    Scotus said...

    On the bright side, except for maybe Chicago vs. New Orleans, none of the NFL Network-aired games are particularly interesting this season.

    And even when you consider how far in advance the schedule was made, I can't believe that in a week where Tennessee plays Chicago, Green Bay plays Minnesota, and Indy plays Pittsburgh, the NFL decided to kick off its slate of games with Denver vs. Cleveland. I'm not sure the NFL is even taking its own network all that seriously.

    Rick Rockwell said...

    Scotus...I agree that the Broncos vs. the Browns isn't as exciting as those other contests, even if the Broncos are leading their division. (And even if the Browns are starting a new quarterback, which is usually disaster. The upset factor may give this a bit more interest tonight.) But from a scheduling viewpoint, at the beginning of the season that looked like two playoff potential teams.

    But you could be right. Maybe the NFL is pulling its punches a bit until this is settled... since the wind seems to be blowing against the league.

    I will say, although they have no great games... there's the Jets-Patriots game next week which will have a lot to say about who leads the AFC East. Plus the Eagles against the Cardinals on Thanksgiving has high scoreboard potential. Finally, although Jacksonville is very inconsistent, they always give the Colts fits... so that should be a close one.

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