Editorial: NFL, cable companies both fumble the ball
The battle between the powerhouse National Football League and the country’s biggest cable companies is one which, unfortunately, both can’t lose.
But while the standoff continues between league officials who demand cable operators carry their NFL Network on the basic cable tier and the mega firms insistence it be relegated to a more expense sports package, the nation’s fans are the ones who suffer.
The issue surrounds eight regular-season games the NFL moved from free TV or the widely accessible ESPN to its fledgling NFL Network.
The NFL wants cable companies to place their channel on the basic tier at the cost of 70 cents per subscriber -- whether or not they watch games or even know if a football is blown up or stuffed with feathers -- for what amounts to eight live games followed by year-round highlights and NFL-related programming.
Cable companies have balked, saying the 80 percent of nonfans who don’t watch the games should not have to subsidize the world’s most financially successfully sports league, which already rakes in $3.7 billion annually in rights fees.
While most of the eight games are of passing interest to fans, like tonight’s battle between the Denver Broncos and Houston Texans, two sub-.500 teams with little chance to make the playoffs, much of the country may miss out on the Patriots drive for perfection when the teams regular season finale against the Giants is slated for the NFL Network on Dec. 29. (Locally, it can be seen on Channel 5.)
The altruistic cry by both sides they are only looking out for their fans best interests rings hollow when you see that hundreds of millions of dollars are at stake for two industries that play the public interest card to the max until it affects their bottom line.
If Comcast and Time Warner acquiesced and made their 38 million subscribers pay, the NFL would reap $300 million -- and that’s before commercials are sold. In addition, while the NFL weeps for the fans that won’t see the games, they say little about the exclusive $3.5 billion five-year deal with DirecTV for out-of-market games that cannot be seen by cable subscribers.
But lest we see the cable behemoths as our white knights, these same people have placed their own sports channels, such as the Comcast-owned Versus and the Golf Channel, on basic tiers even if the vast majority of remote controls skip past them.
The NFL is urging legislative action to force cable companies to play ball and are trying to get their fans to cancel cable and switch to DirecTV. Indeed, there should be legislative intervention. Congress should take a hard look at the NFL’s decision to move previously free games to what amounts to pay-per-view while grabbing public subsidies to build stadiums and the surrounding infrastructure
And federal regulators should force cable companies to offer a la carte menus rather than jamming dozens of channels down consumers’ throats they may not want to pay for.
That way, people who want to watch the games can and will pay for it as well. Then everyone wins. Except the NFL and cable companies.
The Patriot Ledger