Yesterday’s Cleveland Browns game was a pleasantly surprising victory over the Ravens, but as is too often the case it was an unpleasant surprise once I tuned in CBS. For the second week in a row a message from our local CBS affiliate was scrolling across the bottom of the screen stating that yesterday’s game wasn’t being produced in high definition by CBS. No doubt the local affiliate felt the need to scroll that across the screen to keep the complaining phone calls to their local offices to a minimum, but the complaints should still be lodged loud and clear.
Why is it, in this day and age, that CBS can’t have complete HD coverage of all NFL games? Yesterday, CBS had seven NFL games under their coverage and two of them were shown in non-HD resolution. The two contests getting the shaft were Baltimore vs. Cleveland and Houston vs. Atlanta. I realize the method to CBS’s madness in choosing these two games as the least popular nationally, but I don’t think it is out of line to expect them to have seven NFL crews that are all capable of showing games in HD.
According to a Wikipedia entry on the topic, CBS’s executive vice president of sports coverage claims that all games will be broadcast in HD by 2008 or 2009 because the network wanted to focus on building a new studio for the NFL Today pre-game show. Now, there is always a slight shadow of doubt when it comes to Wikipedia, but if the comment is true then I am incredibly disappointed in CBS. If it was truly an “either/or” type of a situation and they chose to improve the lead-in show rather than the actual subject of the lead-in show, then they need to readjust their priorities.
As for the NFL, they shouldn’t go blameless in this situation either. They have responsibility insomuch as they sign the deals with the respective networks. As a part of selling the rights to broadcast the games, they presumably have the right to deal in many aspects of the contract. According to an AP article on the Sports Illustrated website, the NFL signed deals with Fox and CBS worth roughly $4.3 billion and $3.7 billion respectively for six years. Those deals were signed in 2004, but I think that the NFL still has some responsibility to the fans who partake in the NFL product at home every Sunday to ensure that the games are available in HD.
This doesn’t speak to the inequity of the situation amongst certain groups of fans who might root for a team that is historically lower on the totem pole. (Ahem, the Browns.) I can understand that Colts fans or Patriots fans, for example, might not feel the sting of non-HD broadcasting, but there are plenty of cities out there who do. In this day and age where the competition for entertainment time and dollars is at an all-time high, the NFL should be maximizing the quality wherever possible.