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NFL versus Cable TV

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With the Cowboys-Packers game now behind us, the backlash continues from columnists, bloggers and sports reporters blasting the NFL network. At the center of the controversy is Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, who in recent days has placed most of the blame squarely on Big Cable. Mega providers Comcast and Time Warner for their part have certainly taken their shots back at the NFL network and Jones, sending a cease and desist letter to the league, and its main mouthpiece, Jerry Jones.

Jones for his part isn’t shutting up, advising consumers to consider the satellite TV alternatives, Dish Network and DirecTV. While it’s hard to have sympathy for a group of millionaire owners fighting with cable companies that rake in billions annually, Jerry Jones and the NFL certainly have the right to market and distribute their product as they see fit. Let’s look at five reasons why the NFL Network holds a strong bargaining position and why they will ultimately win out in this battle.

1. Content is King: The NFL continues to rule the sports landscape. It consistently draws the best ratings, and has the most passionate fan base. Ratings for Major League Baseball and the NBA continue to lag far behind the NFL. CBS drew a 22.5 large-market Nielsen rating for the Indianapolis Colts-New England Patriots game on November 4th, which was the highest rating for a regular-season Sunday afternoon NFL game since 1986. That is an amazing fact with all of the alternative content available across cable and satellite networks. With a high demand product like this, NFL owners have little motivation to sell out at a low price to cable providers.
2. The Free Market: While some complain about cable monopolies, the free market has given the NFL network some leverage that would not have been possible in the past. Satellite TV options including DirecTV and Dish Network allow most consumers a choice in the pay television industry. The NFL Network reached early agreements with both satellite TV companies, and now can continue to pound on Comcast and Time Warner by encouraging customers to consider the alternatives.

3. Scheduling: While a quick look at the NFL Network’s slate of games this year doesn’t look great, two huge games have fallen into the lap of the NFL owners. As mentioned previously, this weeks NFC tilt featured two 10-1 teams, Dallas and Green Bay. With the Cowboys back in force this year, Jerry Jones won the propaganda jackpot, as he can continue to blame the cable companies for keeping his Cowboys and his network off the airwaves. A second potential jackpot for the NFL Network is the December 29th game between New England and the New York Giants. Should New England keep winning, Comcast and Time Warner may be forced to buckle, or else miss out on televising a potential perfect season.

4. Spoiled Fans: Hey I’m one of them. Thirty years ago we were happy with two NFL games a week, one on Sunday and one Monday night. Now, we have a minimum of four games on free and cable television. For about $10 bucks a week, we can get all of the NFL games through DirecTV. Yet, we still complain when we don’t get the NFL network games. Again, content is king, and the American sports fan has an insatiable appetite for the NFL. Jerry and the rest of the NFL owners know their fan base, and they know they will continue to demand their product, whether by making the switch to satellite, or by demanding it from their cable operator. When the pain becomes too great, cable providers will cave.

5. Roger Goodell: The NFL commissioner has been on the job just over a year, yet has already made his mark on the league. His player conduct policy has already resulted in the suspension of four NFL players including Michael Vick. Last week Goodell took the offensive in remarks made regarding the status of negotiations with cable providers. While leaving the door open to a deal, he reiterated the leagues hard line toward the holdout cable operatives. Goodell’s legacy, along with the owner’s backing will insure a deal favorable toward the NFL Network.

The NFL Network has put its plan in place, and is not going to deviate from the plan. And while this certainly won’t appease Joe Sixpack as he missed out on this week’s game, the current situation might just motivate him to either check out satellite tv, or place a telephone call to his cable company to find out when he’s going to get NFL network.

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  • Dave Thomas

    I’ve read some convincing comments about this fight that make me feel like cable companies are probably right on this one. Check out this blog.

  • DJH

    “CBS drew a 22.5 large-market Nielsen rating for the Indianapolis Colts-New England Patriots game on November 4th, which was the highest rating for a regular-season Sunday afternoon NFL game since 1986.”

    so it took 21 years for a sunday afternoon game to reach a 22.5 share again…not exactly a strong argument

    While most people won’t like it, the big cable companies can ride this out into the offseason, while Goodell is dangerously close killing the goose that laid the golden egg. He inherited a product never stronger than today and he risks alienating fans by taking more and more games off network tv just so his fledgling network can cash in.

    I just don’t see how the NFL can win this…there’s already PR damage done on both sides, and I can see big cable just sitting on this. They’ve already won an earlier court battle and I don’t know how willing the FCC will be to get involved.

  • chris

    Both cable and NFL are the asses in this mess. The ones getting hurt are the fans. When your whole existance depends on fans happiness it is not a good idea to piss them off that goes for both. The NFL should not of put end of season games on their channel but instead put some begining season games and the cables companies had their chance before directv or dish came along to buddy up to the NFL and maybe they would of gotten the Sunday Ticket. If by some miracle of GOD the Patriots are 15-0 come December 29th and the NFL does not make a deal to simucast the Pats-Giants game with a nationwide audience potential like abc, cbs, fox, nbc, espn, or espn 2 then lookout Time Warner, Comcast, Charter, and the NFL, there will not be a hole deep enough for you to crawl in and hide from the wrath of the fans. Whether you are a Pats or NFL fan or not, everybody and their uncle wants to see if the Pats can make history. In closing I would like to tell Goodell, Jerry Jones, Charter, Comcast, Time Weiner (yes that is on purpose), and the other cable and NFL personell involved with this, We have had enough quit acting like 3 year-olds fighting over who got the bigger piece of cake.