At NFL Media's upfront last week, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell promised advertisers and media buyers that he'll do what he has to for the NFL Network "to make sure it succeeds and gets the distribution it deserves."
While NFL Network pegged its subscriber base at 43 million, referencing numbers provided by Nielsen Media Research, other estimates have been as low as 31 million, due to the move to sports and premium tiers by some carriers.
NFL Network has struggled to get cable operators to carry the channel in the tiers it wants, resulting in legal battles. This season, the channel will show the first of its Thursday night games three weeks earlier than it did last year, to whet viewers' appetites. Another Saturday date is also on the schedule.
Perhaps most notably, last year the network was scheduled to have the exclusive rights to a potentially historic regular-season game between the New England Patriots and the New York Giants. Due to pressure from fans (and Congress), the network allowed CBS and NBC to simulcast the game, drawing a total of 61 million viewers.
"I have 250 deals done and I have four more to go," said Steve Bornstein, president and CEO of NFL Network. He's referring to Time Warner Cable, Cablevision Systems, Charter Communications and Comcast, all of which have been reluctant to strike a deal with NFL Network. Bornstein added that he expected to get the deals done, although he would not elaborate on a timeline or on how pending litigation with Comcast would affect them.