NFL, Cable Faceoff Going Down to Wire
NEW YORK (AP) -- On Thanksgiving, the NFL will air the first of eight live pro football games on its own network. But it won't be available to many viewers across the country because the league hasn't reached carriage agreements with several major cable operators.
The eight games -- beginning with Thursday's matchup of the Denver Broncos and the Kansas City Chiefs -- will be available on local broadcasters, satellite TV and a number of other cable systems that do carry the NFL Network. But that totals only about 40 million of the nation's 111.4 million households with TVs.
Most notable among the cable companies that haven't reached deals with the National Football League are No. 2 operator Time Warner Cable, which is a unit of the media conglomerate Time Warner Inc.; Cablevision Systems Corp., a New York-area provider; and Charter Communications Inc. Time Warner, for its part, says it's highly unlikely a deal will be reached in time for the first game.
Comcast Corp., the largest cable company in the country, has carried the network for two years, but as part of a premium-tier sports package ordered by only about 7 million of its 24 million subscribers. Time Warner says it's balking at a demand from NFL that the network be carried on the most widely available basic service lineup.
The issue is cost. Spokesman Mark Harrad says Time Warner would have to pay $140 million a year to provide the channel to all 13.5 million of its subscribers in 33 states, placing it in the top five most expensive cable networks. He said the company would prefer to carry the network as part of a premium service -- not at the rate of 70 cents per customer per month the network is reportedly seeking.
"If we put all expensive sports programming on the standard tier of service, that would increase our rates to all of our customers, even those who didn't particularly care about football or these games," said Harrad.
NFL Network spokesman Seth Palansky counters that a number of other cable companies as well as the two main satellite providers are "happily" carrying the network, which is jointly owned by the league's 32 team owners.
"It's the most valuable programming a cable company can offer, and a cable company not carrying live NFL games is like a grocery store not carrying milk," Palansky said.
The NFL already makes a bundle from broadcasting agreements, money that is shared equally by all team owners. General Electric Co.'s NBC started broadcasting Sunday night games this year under a six-year, $600 million deal with the league, while Walt Disney Co.'s ESPN is paying $1.1 billion for Monday night football over eight years. Last year the NFL reached six-year, $8 billion extensions with Fox and CBS for Sunday afternoon games.