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Friday, December 28, 2007
Broadcasting the Patriots - Giants Game

The saga of the right to telecast Saturday evening's game between the New England Patriots and the New York Giants ended in a strange, but satisfying conclusion. The game, to be broadcast on two terrestrial television networks, one niche cable network and even a local independent station or two, guarantees maximum exposure for a potentially history-making game. A victory by the Patriots guarantees them a perfect season at 16-0.

Not only are the fans served well, but the NFL gets slapped. After years of masterly hardball tactics in negotiating ever more lucrative broadcasting deals (to the tune of $3.7 billion annually under the present agreement), it overplayed its hand with regard to its cable service, the NFL Network. A relatively new venture, the NFL Network is available on select cable systems covering about 50 percent of the cable households. Cable operators such as Time-Warner have balked at including it in their systems because of ongoing disputes over fees and placement, meaning whether the service would be on some kind of "basic" tier or would it be an additional pay tier, like, say an HBO.

By coincidence, this game was originally going to be covered by the NFL Network, meaning that millions would not be able to see the game. When a game is on the NFL Network, the only non-subscribers that can see are those from the local markets of the particular teams, where the game can be simulcast on a local over the air station. In New York, that station was going to be WWOR-TV Channel 9.

The NFL, acting in traditional high-handed fashion, rejected any change in this arrangement until this week, when the outcry -- from fans, commentators, and members of Congress -- was such that the NFL had to back down. So he NFL decided to do something unique -- broadcast the game nationwide on two terrestrial networks: CBS and NBC. They will simulcast the game from the NFL Network, but such an action would be the first time since Super Bowl I that a joint network telecast will occur.

But the problem is not solved. WWOR in New York is angry about this arrangement and possibly, an equivalent independent station in the Boston-Manchester market is as well. WWOR plans to also simulcast the game, but there is a real question of how many fans will watch that broadcast and how much advertising loss will occur for that station.

The result: a total of three networks will cover the game: CBS, NBC and the NFL Network, coupled with one or two additional local stations.


(Postscript: I recall that at the very beginning of the 1967 Super Bowl I game, NBC had technical difficulties and was off the air for 30 seconds to one minute, driving millions of viewers to CBS. I would appreciate it if anyone can confirm the truth of this statement.


Actually the story is that a kickoff was replayed due to NBC not returning from commercials quickly enough

Blogger Mark -- 12/29/2007 6:57 PM  


Blogger Mark Conrad -- 12/30/2007 8:21 PM  

Now the questions I have...

Why did Fox and ABC not participate and were they given the chance? Without going back to the stories my recollection is that the Fox O&O affiliate in New York held the broadcast rights there and the ABC affiliate in Boston secured the rights there. The national ratings for ABC and Fox had to be adversely impacted with their affiliates in the #1 and #7 markets not carrying the national programming.

What was in it for NBC and CBS? The networks love exclusive. Granted with the writers strike and holiday programming their ratings were likely to be soft regardless but I wonder just how much incentive that provided.

What's the benefit for the NFL? They lost their prime bargaining chip for better access for NFL Network. Sure they get some goodwill but at what cost?

There is another shoe or two or three waiting to drop after this.

Will the Congressmen who lobbied for opening up the game extend some carrot such as introducing the long-craved anti-trust exemption? Will there be some sort of tax benefit laying in wait?

Will this lead to some sort of future simulcast agreement such USA Network (owned by NBC Universal) or Spike (owned by Viacom, the CBS parent) get regional redistribution rights for NFL Network games?

Will NFL Network enter some sort of content partnership redistributing maybe some of the Viacom/CBS/CSTV college football package (MWC, CUSA, SEC as I recall) since there are rumors that NFL Net would like to add some college football content. Maybe carrying some relevant movies out of the NBC Universal library? Maybe some original fiction series coming from the studios of either corporation?

Historically the NFL has always played several moves ahead of everyone else and it is no secret that they struggle for compelling content from February until the start of full camps and even then struggle to attract viewers for most of their programming.

Blogger Mark -- 12/31/2007 9:35 AM  


You raise some very good points and many of them I cannot answer conclusively. But I'll take a crack:

1. I thought that since this was a Saturday night, I did not come under the Fox rights and that any local station in the given market could bid on the rights to simulcast the NFL Network game.

2. I think that the networks win out on this one. They may get to some advertising money and since Saturday night is the weakest night of the prime time lineup in terms of viewship, it was worth the risk.

3. Given the nasty politics up at Capitol Hill between cable services and certain members of Congress, hearings could have been called, which would not making the NFL look good; and

4. There is that antitrust exemption under the 1961 Sports Broadcasting Act. Congress could always amend it.


Blogger Mark Conrad -- 12/31/2007 10:19 AM  

nice blog man

Blogger Sports247 -- 1/01/2008 9:45 PM  

Check out my sports blog but probably not as good as urs. its called sports247blog

Blogger Sports247 -- 1/01/2008 9:46 PM  

Interesting post, I have a bit of a different take on it though.

I watched the game at my favorite family sports bar, and after talking to the owner, a man I have known for years, I came to see a quite different side of this discussion.

What about all the people that invested in this product, marketed based on the exclusivity, and counted on the income of having a packed house for games like these. My friend estimated that he lost a few thousand dollars when the game was moved to the local stations. This may not seem like much, but for struggling restaurant owners this impact can be huge.

reeimbursement for these people from the profits of NBC and CBS maybe?

Blogger Jimmy H -- 1/02/2008 3:38 PM  

It seems to me that everyone addressing this topic continues to "dance around" the underlying issue: it is against the law for professional sports leagues (except MLB due to its over-all anti-trust exemption) from entering into agreements to broadcast on cable. The SBA of 1961 is clear AND Rozelle and Tagliabue (sp?) both testified to Congress that they agree. Why no action on this?

S. Lane

Anonymous Anonymous -- 1/26/2008 6:06 AM  

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