The moral of the story: Don’t get in between an out-of-town legislator and his hometown team.
Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) weighed in with National Football League commissioner Roger Goodell and National Cable & Telecommunications Association president Kyle McSlarrow on the upcoming New England Patriots-New York Giants game.
That game, in the last week of the regular season, could see the Patriots complete the first undefeated regular season since the Miami Dolphins did it back in 1972. It will be on NFL Network, which is currently trying to gain widespread carriage and is meeting with some pushback from cable operators that want to put it, or have put it, on a sports tier.
Kerry, who held hearings in March to help push for a settlement in a Major League Baseball satellite-carriage dispute, said he does not want to "interfere" with the negotiations, but "in light of the unique circumstances" -- if New England remains undefeated, of course -- “I urge you to reach an agreement as soon as possible so that football fans across the country are not prevented from viewing what could be a historic sporting event.”
Viewers in the New York and New England home markets will get the game via local broadcast affiliates, but others across the country won't see it unless they get NFL Network, which is currently carried in 43 million homes, according to spokesman Seth Palansky, citing Nielsen Media Research figures.
"We appreciate Sen. Kerry's interest and we completely agree," the network said in a statement. "All fans should be able to see NFL Network as they are able to see The Golf Channel on Comcast. Comcast has an agreement in place right now to put NFL Network into 25 million homes. Instead, Comcast delivers NFL Network to only 1 million homes on a pay-extra basis. Comcast can change that now without any further negotiations. We are eager to negotiate immediately with all of the major cable companies to make NFL Network widely available."
"Comcast offers NFL Network to customers today, and they can watch every NFL game the league makes available on cable television,” the cable operator responded in a prepared statement. “The fact is that the vast majority of our customers have elected not to receive NFL Network.”
Comcast added, "Under our agreement with the NFL, which the league negotiated and signed, we offer NFL Network as part of our Sports Entertainment Package. This is the best and fairest way to provide their expensive programming to customers, because viewers who want to watch the channel will be able to see it, while others who prefer not to receive it will not be forced to pay for it."
Palansky said Goodell would respond to Kerry more fully after he has had a chance to review the senator's letter, which is included below. NCTA had no comment..
The Kerry letter is reprinted below:
Mr. Roger Goodell
National Football League
280 Park Avenue
New York, NY 10017
President & CEO
National Cable & Telecommunications Association
25 Massachusetts Avenue, NW, Suite 100
Washington, DC 20001
Dear Commissioner Goodell and President McSlarrow,
I am writing to express my concern on behalf of football fans across the country who find themselves caught in the middle of a corporate standoff. While the National Football League and a few major cable companies continue to blame each other for the current state of NFL Network carriage, too many American football fans are being held hostage.
Unfortunately, this disagreement has led to the use of what could potentially be a historic football game as leverage in a negotiation. On Saturday, Dec. 29, the New England Patriots will play the New York Giants in a game that could determine whether the Patriots become the first NFL team in 35 years to finish the regular season with an undefeated record. Unfortunately, millions of fans outside of the local media markets -- including fans living in Massachusetts and New York -- will not have access to the network that will broadcast the game.
I recognize that the games shown on NFL Network have been the long-standing subject of commercial negotiations. I do not wish to interfere with these negotiations, and I hope that the two sides can come to an agreement that will ensure that NFL games will be broadcast to the maximum number of television households across the country. In light of the unique circumstances surrounding the 2007 New England Patriots, I urge you to reach an agreement as soon as possible, so that football fans across the country are not prevented from viewing what could be a historic sporting event.
I thank you for your consideration.
John F. Kerry