NFL Network Looks To Tackle; Comcast's Roberts Looking For Blockers

NFL Network stands for Noose-like Football Leverage.

It’s the kind of leverage all sports leagues would like to have--especially when it comes to getting paid from cable operators.

Cable operators have been wrestling with big TV sports money issues for years: Should they put sports channels on sports tiers--making a portion of their subscribers pay extra fees for it, or should they they foot the cost and make all subscribers pay? 

One can always turn around the argument: Why do those sports subscribers, mostly men, have to pay for channels like Hallmark Channel or HGTV or the Food Network, which for the most part they’ll never see?

The difference is that sports are way more expensive--especially the NFL.

Now, Brian Roberts, chairman of Comcast Corp., is so perplexed by the situation he wants to organize an industry summit to hash out differences. 

Comcast, the biggest cable operator in the land, just got through an agreement where it would pay the NFL Network an extra sub fee for an entire year, for just eight live games. Time Warner, the second biggest cable system operator, has so far refused to foot the extra bill.

Roberts is now worried other sports leagues/groups will take a similar tack. For example, The U.S. Olympic Committee is considering its own 24-hour network. Even then, Olympics sports would conceivably be priced more reasonably.

By comparison, the NFL Network wants to raise its price from 20 cents per sub to a whopping 80 cents or $1 per sub. That’s incredible, considering that the NFL is in just 40 million homes and that other fully distributed networks are getting nickels and dimes in per-sub fees. 

The NFL Network now wants to bully its way into people’s homes for just 20 hours of new programming for an entire year. That doesn’t sound like a lot of extra programming--especially for a year-round, 24-hour network.  As the pre-eminent sports league, which bring in big ratings and big advertising revenue, The NFL is essentially putting a gun to TV distributors’ heads.

“People will go nuts on Thanksgiving when there's a game on and they can't watch it,”  Seth Palansky, a spokesman for the NFL Network, has reportedly said.

That’s not quite the truth; the two teams’ home markets that appear in those late season NFL Network  games will each have their games televised by their over-the-air local TV stations.

And really--how nuts will people get from football deprivation? Will there be protests because someone in Denver can’t see the Dallas Cowboys-Detroit Lions game? It’s not like they can’t see other scores of other games through the season on NBC, ESPN, CBS or Fox.

Sure, you can blame a lot on cable operators. But it’s hard to argue the high cost for eight extra games that fans didn’t know they missed a year ago.  So what about Thanksgiving? How about talking to your relatives once in a while?

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