On May 1st, the NFL is pulling its cable channel from Comcast’s cable line-up over a dispute about the cable company’s sports tier. As the deadline looms larger and larger, the company is taking their case to the people. David L. Cohen, an executive vice president of Comcast Corp, wrote the following opinion piece for the Philadelphia Inquirer.
The NFL has been misleading the public by accusing Comcast of depriving cable customers of its network. I would like to set the record straight.
The truth is that Comcast wants to carry NFL Network, and we have been working hard to come to an agreement to do just that before our current contract with the NFL expires on May 1. In fact, we have offered to continue to carry the network under the terms of our current contract, but the NFL has refused.
You may wonder why. We’re asking the same question.
The NFL is the most sophisticated, lucrative, and powerful professional sports enterprise in the world, with a special exemption from antitrust laws that helps it maintain its monopoly on televised football. The NFL already makes more than $20 billion through long-term deals with ESPN, CBS, Fox, and NBC – more than the television-rights fees collected by the NBA, NHL, and NASCAR combined.
But the NFL wants more, and it’s trying to use its enormous market power to force millions of our customers to pay for games they have always seen for free. (On top of that, it denies tens of millions of cable customers access to hundreds of games provided exclusively to DirecTV.)
Comcast currently makes NFL Network available on the dedicated sports and entertainment tier. We view this as the best and fairest way to provide NFL Network’s expensive programming, because viewers who want to watch the channel can do so, while those who prefer not to aren’t forced to cover the network’s high costs.
NFL Network provides only eight live, regular-season, out-of-market games a year. The vast majority of the network’s programming is filler such as training-camp coverage and draft analysis, which may interest the super-fan, but not most cable customers. And yet the network wants to charge higher fees than virtually any other national cable network.
Since the NFL doesn’t like the terms of the contract it signed, it has repeatedly asked the courts and government authorities to require that the terms be changed. Contrary to the NFL’s recent claims, though, the Federal Communications Commission has made no final determinations as to whether the NFL’s claims of discrimination by Comcast are valid or bogus.
But despite our offer to do what’s in the best interests of fans, we anticipate that the NFL may terminate Comcast’s right to carry NFL Network. No matter what happens, though, Philadelphia fans will still see every Eagles game and all the NFL games on CBS, Fox, NBC, and ESPN. In fact, we carry more than 250 NFL games across the country every year.
Nobody can doubt Comcast’s passionate commitment to giving our customers the best sports programming. We own the Flyers and the Sixers, and we bring thousands of professional, college, and local sporting events to our customers each year.
We have reached hundreds of agreements with other cable networks, and we typically renew our network agreements without any interruption of service. We would like to continue to carry NFL Network. But we will do so only on terms that are fair to our customers.
The NFL should join us in putting the interests of fans and the viewing public first.
You can review the NFL network’s side of the story here. And, of course, there’s actually a third side of the argument, the consumers who don’t care about football and don’t want their basic cable rates to rise to pay for the NFL Network.
So, Consumerists, let’s settle this once and for all. Who’s right? Does Comcast have the right to charge whatever it likes for cable channels as part of its business? Or is it unfairly singling out the NFL channel as the league claims? (Comcast apparently does not put the channels it owns or has ownership interest in (Golf Channel, Versus and MLB Network) on a sports tier.)
NFL Network is not for everyone [Philadelphia Inquirer]