NFL Network still battling MSOs


Some football fans, particularly those in Indiana and Georgia, may have felt less than thankful on Thanksgiving Day as they were left out of the traditional observance of cheering on the home team in an NFL broadcast. The primetime game between the Indianapolis Colts and Atlanta Falcons was the first of eight this season to be shown exclusively on the NFL Network.

The NFL teams, who own the fledgling cable/satellite net, had hoped those exclusive play-by-play broadcasts would be enough to force major MSOs to open up space for the network on their basic tiers, alongside such staples as CNN, Fox News Channel, USA, TBS and, of course, ESPN. It hasn’t worked out that way. Fewer than 35 million US TV households currently have the NFL network. The major MSOs have resisted putting the NFL Network on their basic tiers because of the cost – which they say would be difficult to justify passing on to subscribers.

In recent weeks, the NFL Network has tried to turn up the heat on cable giant Comcast, with Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones urging cable customer to switch to satellite TV companies and telephone company over builders that carry the network. A website for the NFL Network urges people to enter their zip code to find alternatives so they can "switch to a TV provider that will bring you NFL Network, not hold you hostage." Comcast fired back with a cease and desist letter charging that the switching campaign violates the contract that the NFL Network has with Comcast.

Ahead of the Thanksgiving Day game, Comcast issued a public statement by David L. Cohen, Exec. VP of Comcast: ""Comcast offers the NFL Network to all of its interested customers today and they can watch every NFL game the league makes available on cable television. The fact is that the vast majority of our customers have elected not to receive NFL Network. Under our agreement with the NFL, which the league negotiated and signed, we offer the NFL Network as part of our Sports Entertainment Package. This is the best and fairest way to provide the NFL’s expensive programming to customers, because viewers who want to watch the channel will be able to see it, while others who prefer not to receive it will not be forced to pay. While the NFL claims that it wants its games to be seen by the widest possible audiences, it’s actually their rules that limit which games fans can watch. It’s the NFL that designates which cities can have over-the-air broadcasts of specific games. It is also the NFL that decided to take these eight games off of free broadcast television and to try to enrich themselves at the expense of their fans by creating a multi-billion dollar asset called the NFL Network."