Bending to intense Congressional pressure, the NFL has agreed to but Saturday’s New England Patriots vs. New York Giants game on both CBS and NBC (12/27/07 TVBR #249), rather than going with the original plan to have the national telecast only on its fledgling NFL Network. Now, though, the “exclusive” hometown rights sold to stations in Boston and New York aren’t so exclusive. And, as it happens, neither station which had contracted with the NFL Network for the local broadcast rights is an affiliate of either CBS or NBC, so the game is currently scheduled to air on three competing stations in each of the two markets.
In Boston, it is Hearst-Argyle’s WCVB-TV (Ch. 5, ABC), which had long-ago signed with the NFL Network for the right to air the high-profile game. Hearst-Argyle will also broadcast it on WMUR-TV (Ch. 9, ABC) Manchester, NH, which is also part of the Boston DMA. But now, after selling out its advertising inventory to advertisers hot to be on the only place where home market Patriots fans will be able to see the game on broadcast TV, the game is suddenly scheduled to be carried on two other Boston stations, WBZ-TV (Ch. 4, CBS O&O) and WHDH-TV (Ch. 7, NBC).
In New York it is News Corporation-owned WWOR-TV (Ch. 9, MyNetworkTV) which is now facing unexpected duplication from the network O&Os, WNBC-TV (Ch. 4) and WCBS-TV (Ch. 2). The station insists that the arrangement violates the contract is has in place with the NFL to be the only place in the New York DMA to see the broadcast over the air. “We fully expect the League to honor their commitment to My9 as the exclusive free over the air broadcaster for Saturday’s telecast of the New England Patriots at New York Giants game," the station said in a statement. It doesn’t look like that is going to happen, so look for the lawyers to get involved.
TVBR observation: The lesson for the NFL owners is that running to Capital Hill with a business dispute can sometimes backfire. The NFL Network tried to get New England politicians, in particular, fired up to pressure cable companies in the region to sign up to put their fledgling network on their systems – and for Comcast to move it from a sports tier to basic, thereby making it available to more subscribers (and, just by an amazing coincidence, generating much greater subscriber fee payments for the NFL Network). What actually happened was that the politicians got mad at everyone involved – the NFL Network as well as the cable operators. So, the NFL owners, who own the NFL Network, made new enemies in the US Congress, some of whom threatened to reopen the league’s antitrust exemption if the owners persisted in keeping one of the biggest football games of the year only on their low-penetration start-up network.
The NFL owners thought they had a sure-fire way to bring the cable MSOs to their knees by holding back eight games this season to be shown only on the NFL Network. Instead they’ve foregone the cash that selling those games to a broadcast network would have brought in, they’ve generated lots of bad PR for themselves, they’ve made new enemies of powerful politicians of both parties – and they are stuck with a start-up cable network that the major MSOs are still refusing to pay for.