Sports Law Blog
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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.