Amid Fumbles, NFL Gets Big-Scoring Rating News

If you're an NFL executive, can you get too much of a good thing? Your league scores a lot of points for having the biggest TV sport in terms of advertising revenues and ratings. Some advice: Give up the ball to your other teammates once in a while.

Now the season-ending ratings of 2006 have delivered even better news. For the first time in a long time, all of the NFL outlets grew in ratings from the year before.

This makes the league's attempt to shove its NFL Network down the throats of all U.S. TV consumers appear somewhat greedy. This year the NFL and some operators--Time Warner and Cablevision--have been in a programming tussle, with the NFL Network pushing cable operators and consumers to pay for an entire year, 365 days, for the channel, which is delivering only eight days of real content--eight live NFL games.



The NFL wants its NFL Network to run on basic cable, not on a sport tier, in which consumers pay extra--to get the biggest number of subscribers under its belt. According to The Wall Street Journal, the network's near-term goal was some 70 million subscribers. Instead, the NFL Network is at a mere 40 million. Fewer subscribers mean fewer possible viewers and ratings that are sold to national advertisers.

The result is, by its own big-vision goals, the NFL has reached some critical TV mass in terms of distribution. Few TV fans complained that they aren't getting the NFL Network games on basic cable.

For the time being, the NFL has lost a major TV battle--which has surprised analysts. But that isn't the only surprise. The other was the NFL has increased ratings from all its TV venues, which has made its TV partners a happy bunch this year--especially with great games and many teams of parity with one another. In return, the NFL gets a collective $3 billion a year from these networks.

The NFL's New Year's resolution should be to let the rest of its television team of partners--including national advertisers and TV consumers--feel like they're part of the action, where they get a little more than they thought.

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