Forget the playoffs, the Super Bowl, or even a Thursday night Jets-Pats game. The real battle in football now features one entrenched, anti-competitive monopoly (the NFL) against another entrenched, anti-competitive monopoly (the cable industry.)
At issue, again this season: Comcast has placed NFL Network on pay tiers, not on analog or basic digital. The cablers argue that outside of a game each week during football season, NFL Network offers a bunch of worthless junk (“classic” games, shows about cheerleaders and the like) the other 345 days of the year. Golf is at least as boring as football, yet, as NFL Network notes, Comcast gives the Golf Channel—which it owns—a coveted spot in basic packages.
Last season, the NFL whimpered to elected officials, especially in Texas, who momentarily set aside their free-market principles to beg cablers and the FCC to do something, apparently figuring fans had some kind of civil right to pay the cheapest possible cable rates to watch millionaire athletes play in billion-dollar stadiums.
This week, the NFL Network kicked off a further PR push up the middle with an Op-Ed distributed to anyone who would print it. The network noted that the FCC Media Bureau last month ruled that the network’s case against Comcast and Time Warner Cable had enough merit to be kicked upstairs to an administrative law judge,
“The FCC ordered the case for additional proceedings,” the Op Ed reads. “But the cable companies continue to drag their feet and are now trying to delay the proceedings, virtually guaranteeing that yet another NFL season will pass before fans get TV they really want, like Thursday night’s Jets-Patriots battle for first place.”
Ironically, the NFL is running its own blitz against viewers. According to The Wall Street Journal, NFL has the authority to limit free over-the-air carriage to the home markets of the teams—for the Patriots, that means ABC will carry the game for free in Boston (and in Manchaster, N.H.), but not other markets in New England such as Hartford, Springfield, Burnlington and Portland. So those New Englanders may be out of luck.