In its continuing struggle to secure wide carriage of a controversial – and cable operators say high-priced – package of football games, NFL Network has gone to court to force Comcast to carry the channel on a wider tier.
Industry executives familiar with the suit – filed under seal in New York State last month and only disclosed this week – say it centers narrowly on how Comcast is slating the network on systems it acquired from Adelphia Comunications and Time Warner this summer. But it points more broadly to the NFL quest to recover its massive $2.4 billion investment in NFL Network.
That cost stems from the league’s decision to schedule a package of eight games on its own network rather than collect money by licensing them to another outlet. The league’s best offer came from Comcast-owned network Versus, which offered a six-year deal at $400 million per year plus an equity stake in the channel.
NFL Network wants cable and satellite TV operators to pay a fat 70-90 cents per subscriber and carry the channel on basic cable. Operators that don’t have a deal with the network – notably Time Warner Cable and Cablevision – have balked at such high fees. Some others with older, less expensive deals – notably Comcast and Cox – are carrying the channel on a digital tier that only 20-30% of their customers pay for.
When Comcast bought two million subscribers from Adelphia and Time Warner, the operator applied the terms of its existing NFL Network contract to the new systems and said it would carry the network, but only on a digital tier. The NFL disputes that, contending the old contract doesn’t apply.
" Comcast believes it has the right to carry the NFL Network on a sports tier and will vigorously defend its position," Comcast says in a statement adding that "the NFL is trying to force cable companies to charge many consumers for programming they don’t want."
An NFL spokesman would not comment on the suit, which he says remains under seal.