The NFL Network has been playing hardball with cable operators Comcast and Time Warner for months, demanding the carriers pick up the network at the rate of 70 cents per subscriber. The network, which offers football programming 24/7/365, seemed to have leveraged the situation to their advantage perfectly, until the dreaded “C” word popped up.
Yes, that “C” word: Congress.
This past Wednesday, Dec. 19, Senator Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., and Senator Arlen Specter, R-Pa sent a letter to the NFL, which probably fell front and center on the desk of Commissioner Roger Goodell. The letter threatens:
"Now that the NFL is adopting strategies to limit distribution of game programming to their own networks, Congress may need to reexamine the need and desirability of their continued exemption from the Nation's antitrust laws."
Ouch, that’s a punch right in the gut. I wonder how Roger reacted after reading that one. I’m sure he doesn’t have enough already to deal with, considering Mike Vick, Pacman Jones, and the tragic murder of Sean Taylor just weeks ago. A date with the United States Congress, however, is not something Roger Goodell wants to deal with. Just ask Major League Baseball how things have been going ever since Mark McGwire went up to Capitol Hill to testify about steroid use.
So with the ball placed in the NFL’s court, the league had to react. They had to at least give the appearance of trying to find a solution. So Goodell fired off a letter to Time Warner CEO Glenn Britt offering access to the NFL Network immediately in exchange for binding arbitration with the cable operator. The response from Britt:
"As I'm sure you are aware, over the years we've been able to successfully reach agreements with hundreds of programming networks without the use of arbitration," he wrote. "We continue to believe that the best way to achieve results is to privately seek a resolution and not attempt to negotiate through the press or elected officials."
Translation: Put that in your pipe and smoke it.
Mr. Britt sees that Congress has just given him the magic bullet he has been waiting for in this threatening letter mailed to the NFL. Now he follows up by blasting the league with: “Hey, were not the problem, everyone else can deal with us, why can’t you?”
For several months, cable TV operators have been beaten down by the NFL Network and its publicity machine. The NFL Network has been brazen in their promotion of alternate pay TV sources, such as satellite television. All the while, Time Warner and Comcast have held out, arguing that the NFL Network’s limited schedule of eight games per year was not worth the asking price.
What seemed like the perfect storm for the league, the New England Patriots attempting to complete a perfect season on the NFL’s flagship network, has now gone south. Obviously fans in the region are steamed about the situation, and they have gotten a receptive ear in the form of their elected officials. I speculated earlier that the NFL Network would win out in this dispute, but now the tide has turned.
When governmental officials react to that kind of anger, it certainly changes the whole ballgame for Jerry Jones, Roger Goodell, and the NFL Network.Powered by Sidelines