Comcast Sues NFL Alleging Breach of Contract

Cable Operator Claims National Football League Encouraged Subscribers to Drop Service

Comcast filed a breach of contract suit against the National Football League in the New York State Supreme Court.

The cable operator said the NFL has been encouraging its customers to drop its service, essentially "destroying" Comcast's right to put the channel on the sports tier, which the NFL agreed to in its contract, although it disputed whether the contractually allowed move of the channel to the sports tier had actually been triggered.

That suit followed a letter Comcast sent to the NFL Nov. 19 asking it to "cease and desist" from any public communications encouraging Comcast subscribers to cancel their subscriptions, but still saying that it could sue for damages it had already incurred.

In the suit, which was filed Thursday, according to a copy supplied to B&C, Comcast said the NFL had breached its agreements "through what has been described as a multimillion-dollar marketing campaign to drive Comcast's customers to its competitors and, thereby, to wrongfully coerce Comcast into abandoning its bargained-for tiering right."

In May 2007, the New York State Supreme Court upheld Comcast's right to carry the channel on a sports tier after a dispute between the two parties over whether Comcast's right to tier the network had been triggered. The operator had initially carried the network on a more highly viewed tier per its contract.

Comcast pointed to mass e-mailings NFL Network sent out with links to Web sites that include a "make the switch" option informing them that they can switch to a provider "that will bring you NFL Network, not hold you hostage." It also cited NFL executives' statements encouraging Comcast subscribers to cancel their subscriptions and switch to another provider like satellite or AT&T's U-Verse TV, which do not charge extra for NFL Network, as Comcast does.

Comcast said it informed the NFL Dec. 7 that it would sue unless the NFL ended the campaign by Dec. 12. Saying that didn't happen, Comcast filed the suit the next day, which was Thursday.

The operator added that it wants the court to rule that the NFL has breached its contract, to issue a permanent injunction against the campaign to get Comcast customers to drop the service and to order damages "for injuries it suffered," as well as court costs and whatever else the courts would like to offer up as relief.

"We haven't seen the lawsuit so we can't address specifics," NFL spokesman Seth Palansky said, "but they seem nervous. An educated consumer is a good customer."

The NFL Network carriage fight is in the spotlight in Washington due to the invervention of Democrats Sen. John Kerry and Rep. Ed Markey, both of Massachusetts, who have encouraged wider distribution of the New England Patriots at New York Giants game Dec. 29 that is on NFL Network. The Patriots could match the Dolphins as the only unbeaten team over an entire regular season.