NFL: "You Can Have The Patriots Game If You Agree To Binding Arbitration." TWC: "Bite Me."

The NFL has offered Time Warner Cable the option of entering into binding arbitration in exchange for “free” access to the much-anticipated last regular season Patriots game after two U.S. Senators threated to reconsider the NFL’s anti-trust exemption if it didn’t make NFL Network games available to more viewers. Sadly for the NFL, Time Warner Cable has decided to decline this generous offer to screw themselves.

The NFL’s binding arbitration deal would have retroactively charged TWC for the game after the arbitration process was finished.

Time Warner Cable’s CEO Greg Britt wrote to NFL commissioner Roger Goodell:

“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.”

Meanwhile, a number of states, including Wisconsin, are trying to force the cable companies into arbitration against their will. From USAToday:

A vice president of the Green Bay Packers told the state Senate committee in Wisconsin that the channel’s exclusion from some major cable networks could spell the beginning of the end of the sport’s popularity.

“Sports die off when they are not broadly accessible to the fans,” Jason Wied said. “This is the start of that problem.”

Wied, along with the president of the NFL Network, spoke in support of a bipartisan bill that could require an arbitrator to resolve disputes between the network and cable companies.

The director of the Wisconsin Cable Communications Association, which represents Time Warner Cable, Charter Communications, Comcast Cable, MediaCom and 25 other smaller providers, said the state should not interfere with negotiations in a free market and doing so may be unconstitutional.

Nice try, Packers. It’s not the cable companies, but the NFL’s own byzantine rules that prevent the entire state of Wisconsin from being a “home market” for the Packers. Games broadcast on the NFL network are simulcast on local broadcast stations in the team’s home market.

We love the NFL (obviously), but the fact remains that most people don’t want their cable rates raised year round to accommodate a small number of sports fans who enjoy watching out-of-market football— and the cable companies know it.

NFL offers arbitration to cable for NFL Network [USAToday]
(Photo:Paul Keleher)

Comments

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  1. Munsoned says:

    I love how NFL complains about lack of cable access spelling the end of NFL popularity, when they freely choose to offer NFL Sunday Ticket only to DirecTV, which millions of people can’t get even if they were willing to pay for it. What a crock! They’ve really screwed up the legal and PR aspects of this whole thing about as badly as possible.

  2. B says:

    So binding arbitration is good enough for TWC customers, but not for TWC, huh?

  3. zentec says:

    I’m quite tired of subsidizing professional sports. If it’s not assistance in building stadiums, these people have their hands in my pocket to support networks I don’t watch.

    I’ve never been a fan of Comcast or any other cable company, but I sure wish DirecTV would have taken the same approach. If you want the NFL network, that’s great. I shouldn’t be required to subsidize a network I don’t watch.

    It’s nice to know that the NFL has enlisted the help of politicians to get their way.

  4. TVfan says:

    Or you can really thumb your nose at the cable companies by watching the game live on your Sprint cell phone. They are carrying the game on the NFL network for anyone that has one of the Sprint Data plan things.

  5. stephenjames716 says:

    this whole situation is really starting to get tiring. in the meantime I’ll be watching the NFL network on direct tv. I sympathize with all those who don’t have it and are football fans.

  6. BloggyMcBlogBlog says:

    @ErnieMcCracken: You’re right. How about this for a compromise: Cable pays the NFL $0.45/subscriber per month for the NFL network on basic cable and the cable companies have access to NFL Sunday Ticket. Everbody is happy (except for DirecTV.) The End.

  7. freshyill says:

    This home market stuff is total bullshit.

    A few years ago, when I was living in Harrisburg, Pa. (a city that goes about 60-40 for Steelers and Eagles, respectively), the NFL decided that they needed to expand the hated Ravens’ “home market” into Harrisburg. The local CBS affiliate tried to put up a fight, but I think that in the end the NFL probably ended up getting their way.

    Basically, the NFL said that all those Steelers fans needed to become Ravens fans because Harrisburg is closer to Baltimore than Pittsburgh.

  8. cerbie says:

    @BloggyMcBlogBlog: I imagine if it were $.45 per subscriber, we’d all have an extra channel and slightly higher bill by bow.

  9. Optimus says:

    @B: I was going to comment in agreement, but kangaroo BA courts only encourage me to spout vulgarities. Suffice it to say, the bigger they are, the more votes they can buy.

  10. Dibbler says:

    Cox Communication sent us something one time showing how the bill breaks down per channel and the sports channels ESPN and Fox Sports added up to more than half the total bill. As far as I’m concerned they could just pull the sports channels, cut my bill in half and I could just check out scores online. After a few years the sports channels would be back begging us to watch them again, salaries of sports stars would drop, tickets to games would be cheaper and the owners would have something called hulmility.

  11. Dibbler says:

    …or if I could spell it would say Humility…

  12. Jthmeffy says:

    I live in Wisconsin and am a Packer fan. I was able to watch the Packers VS. Cowboys game via NFL Network.. Of course, since I didn’t see the point in getting direct TV for ONE or TWO 3 hour games PER FUCKING YEAR that I would need it for, I went down to a local bar and watched it.. BTW, I have MediaCom.. I havent found any better deals ($60 for 8mb cable, and a decent selection channels including a Starz package and a Showtime package).

  13. DerekG says:

    According to an e-mail from the NFL, adding the NFL Network costs cable companies 2 cents per subscriber per day. 60 cents per month doesn’t seem like too much of a stretch for cable companies to add the NFL Network.

  14. MCShortbus says:

    @Jthmeffy:
    That’s my strategy. Hell I have more fun watching games at bars. It’s fun to get drunk and rowdy with the other sports fans.

  15. motoraway says:

    I have the best of both worlds. In Canada, TSN airs all the NFL Network games (plus NBC/ESPN games), which is included in most, if not all basic cable systems here. Not to mention, I received Sunday Ticket for free when I subscribed to NHL Centre Ice.

  16. SacraBos says:

    The thing that funny, doesn’t TWC carry the NFL Network already? The problem is that the individual subscribers have to pay extra for it (which I’m sure most of it would go to the NFL)?

    If that’s the case, then the NFL can go pound sand if they claim “but if no one watches it”. They’re scared to admit that there’s a lot of people that aren’t willing to pay for it (or at least overtly pay for it).

    The NFL is running a racket, since they get paid by the cable companies to broadcast it, paid by the teams to be part of the league, paid by the advertizers for air-time during the game. Meanwhile, you have to get a sub-prime ARM loan against your house if you want to take your son to a live game.

    This isn’t a concern about the “sport dying off”, which is nonsense, this is about protecting these huge profits and salaries for all involved. And appearently the only way that they can continue to do that is “tax” everyone via their cable/satellite bills without everyone seeing the man behind the curtain. Good for TWC for not playing their game.

  17. Brian Gee says:

    @SacraBos: That is exactly the issue. The cable companies know that they’ll lose subscribers if they jam yet another channel down our pipes. I know they’d lose me. If the NFL wants to ruin their own product by alienating their viewers, more power to them. There are dozens of channels on cable that can and do show NFL games; its certainly not the cable companies keeping the games from their viewers.

    @BloggyMcBlogBlog: 45 cents a month isn’t really the issue. Its more like the “straw that broke the camel’s back”. On regular “expanded” cable that I need to get Comedy Central (which honestly is the only channel I watch that is not available on the $12/month super-basic cable lineup), I also end up with multiple ESPNs, multiple MTVs, VH1, a truckload of nickelodeon, Lifetime, Oxygen, Fox sports, Fox news, a handful of CNNs, and who knows what else. And I have to pay for all that crap just to get the few shows I really want to see (thankfully the writer’s strike has alleviated that need for the short term and I’m on super-basic, and if pressed I can “buy” the daily show and the colbert report on iTunes for less than the price of expanded cable).

    (I get my local channels HDTV broadcasts through the rabbit ears, so network shows are already “free”.)

    The more channels they add that I don’t watch, the stronger the argument for “ala carte”, and the cable companies absolutely do not want that. They’re certainly not going to blow that on some niche channel. They know their market and how to exploit it; the NFL knows football. TWC and Comcast know they can milk an extra tier out of the real diehards to whom the NFL Network actually appeals, without the risk of losing subscribers.

    This is truly PR gold for the cable companies. For once they look like they’re trying to protect their customers; for once it seems like they don’t want to nickel and dime us to death. The reality is that the nickels and dimes just don’t add up to the $5-$6 they can get steering just a tiny percentage of customers to the sports tier. If they thought it would be profitable, they’d have screwed us over months ago.

    @cerbie: If Comcast added the NFL network to my lineup at my cost, I can assure you my bill would go from $54 (cable plus cablemodem) to $0 and I’d be switching to DSL. I have no loyalty to Comcast, and I’m not a slave to my TV.

    That said, I did watch the packers v. cowboys on the NFL Network at a jam-packed sports bar down the street from me. As a niche channel, the NFL network is brilliant. The “scarcity” of that game got me (and many others) to the bar to watch it. Had it just been on regular tv that I could have watched at home, I probably would have stayed home and skipped it.

  18. Buran says:

    @DerekG: Except most of us don’t want to pay it. It doesn’t matter how much. We don’t want to subsidize you. If you want the channel, put it on your own bill.

    I don’t pay for HBO because I don’t want to watch HBO. Why should I pay for football that I don’t want to see?

  19. cad06 says:

    How am I supposed to feel bad that TWC doesn’t want to pay the NFL for showing a product some of their viewers want to see?

    Are they losing money somewhere we don’t know about? Because last time I checked, they were rolling in dough.

  20. BruinEric says:

    This site is usually saturated with horror stories about awful cable companies messing up everything left & right. And now they’re the white hats in this situation? Riiiiight.

    Cable companies have no problem bundling channels and sticking subscribers with the costs. They haven’t turned into consumer advocates here, they’re trying to use publicity like this to leverage NFL game access to get their costs down or increase subscriber revenue.

    Both parties in this are having a business fight and don’t let either of them position themselves as the Red Cross of content here.

  21. ct03 says:

    A little arbitration trivia: this story is interesting because arbitration in the U.S originated, and was originally intended only for, transactions between two corporations. The Federal Arbitration Act was enacted to allow companies to choose arbitration over litigation if desired, the thought being that two equally positioned parties, i.e., two corporations, should be able to negotiate over the terms of a contract and choose to use an arbitrator instead of a judge or jury if they desired someone with industry experience, or wanted fewer procedural restrictions–some of the very same benefits that have become disadvantages when consumers are involved in arbitration.

  22. FLConsumer says:

    I never thought I’d say this, but Thank You Time Wanker Cable! Probably the only decision of theirs that I’ve agreed on. Granted, they’re nowhere near as evil as Verizon, but there’s something majorly wrong when my cable bill w/no premiums is higher than my electric bill.

  23. g4lt says:

    so the sense I’m getting here from TWC customers is they’d rather PAY EXTRA for a channel than get it included in the services they’re already paying for? Am I missing something here, and does TWC immediately increase rates when they add a channel to their basic service lineup? It’s pretty pathetic when a customer complains about bill-1 without NFLN being the same as bill-2 with NFLN added. Do you also complain at stores when you find out because of a sale, your register receipt is lower than it should be?

  24. Keter says:

    “Sports die off when they are not broadly accessible to the fans…” So mote it be. ;o)

  25. “Sports die off when they are not broadly accessible to the fans…”

    Hey, anyone seen an NHL game on TV? Didn’t they used to be on EPSN? Are they still on strike?

    Seriously, I like hockey, and I still don’t know what channel number Versus is…

  26. Trai_Dep says:

    @Dibbler: “Cox Communication sent us something one time showing how the bill breaks down per channel and ESPN and Fox Sports added up to more than half the total bill.”

    Wow. That’s simply obscene. Especially as a guy that plays sports, not watches them.

  27. MrEvil says:

    The only sport I watch regularly is baseball, but I can’t get games for my favorite team, St Louis….except in ’06 when they got to the series.

    Seriously though, I’m glad my cable company (suddenlink) as much as I hate them, is fighting the NFL on the requirement that the network has to be in basic service. I played touch and flag football alot as a kid and still play with my friends from time to time, but I can’t stand to watch it. I’ll be damned if I gotta take another increase in my cable bill so I can get a channel I don’t even want.

  28. DomZ says:

    I’m the anti-Christ. I happily pay Comcast $4.95/mo for the NFL Network (and 4 channels no one cares about). The on demand 10 minute recaps of all the games and a lot of the classic footage is worth about a dime, a nickel, and two pennies a day for me. I wish it was still free; Sprint gives me the NFL Network for free – why can’t Comcast?