Fans take hit in NFL, cable matchup

By Kevin Wilson: CNJ staff writer

“Turn to page 38,” Shawn told me.

I was holding Shawn’s copy of the NFL Shop catalog, and was considering a new 49ers jacket until he alerted me to the collectible Super Bowl book on page 38. It was quite a book, leatherbound with a case and handling gloves, signatures from 34 of the 35 Super Bowl MVPs and a coupon for a photo session with a famous photographer.

“OK, now look at the price,” Shawn responded. The book was only $40,000.

It was just another reminder that NFL doesn’t just mean National Football League. It means No Financial Limits.

I got the bigger reminder Thursday, when I went to a local restaurant. It was busy that night because that night’s game between the 10-1 Dallas Cowboys and the 10-1 Green Bay Packers was only on NFL Network, and many homes don’t have it. This restaurant wasn’t airing the game, but was swamped due to people who didn’t brave the crowds at restaurants that did.

The end result is a lot of people didn’t see the Dallas Cowboys’ 37-27 victory, and that’s exactly how the NFL wanted it. The network isn’t on most cable networks because providers are balking at the 70 cents per subscriber price demand the league has given.

That means the NFL thinks its network, which does little once the NFL season ends, is worth 159 percent as much as CNN (44 cents per subscriber) or 117 percent as much as Fox News (60 cents), both networks that give their viewers news 24 hours per day, 365 days per year.

Rather than change financial demands, the NFL wants fans to change their providers. The NFL has created a Web site that tells viewers what television providers don’t provide the network and how customers can leave those providers.

Pity the poor, unappreciated NFL. It’s only receiving $6 billion per year from NBC, CBS and ESPN to broadcast regular season games. It’s only getting $700 million annually from DirecTV to exclusively broadcast its NFL Sunday Ticket package, which is basically DirecTV broadcasting those local NBC and CBS affiliates’ games on a national scale. Of course the NFL deserves another $300 million to $400 million for its own network.

The NFL’s financial success has come through an antitrust agreement, which lets the teams operate as a union to negotiate broadcast rights. That meant in the 1980s you had to take the Los Angeles Rams to have the San Francisco 49ers. In the 1990s you took the Cincinnati Bengals, because it’s the only way you’d get the Dallas Cowboys.

Those negotiating capabilities helped every franchise grow, not just the Super Bowl winners. In exchange for this strongarming ability, the NFL had to agree it would do everything in its power to make sure the public had access to its games.

Does that sound like the current NFL? No, it’s reaping $700 million to limit most games to a satellite service only 10 percent of Americans receive. No, it’s trying to squeeze another $300 million-$400 million by taking a few games and holding them hostage so cable companies will pay exorbitant rates for the league’s seasonal product.

Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., saw this coming in 2006 and organized a failed effort to take away the league’s antitrust agreement. I hope the Democrats take up a similar effort, because the league’s been abusing the government protection for far too long.

It’s humorous for the NFL to charge $40,000 for a book. It’s criminal for the league to make $7 billion a year through an antitrust agreement, but not live up to the agreement’s responsibilities.

Kevin Wilson is a columnist for Freedom New Mexico. He can be contacted at 763-3431, ext. 313, or by e-mail: