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:
National Football League
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by Rick Rockwell