NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell defended the league's television policy in a letter late last weeek to a group of powerful legislators who had complained about what they saw as the NFL restricing access to games.
Goodell said they should, instead, be talking to cable operators who have not agreed to carry the NFL Network cable channel on their widely distributed basic tiers.
The letter was in response to
last week, including the chairman and ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Comittee. Ranking Republican Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, whose name led off the list, has been a longstanding critic of TV rights policies he saw as disadvantaging viewers.
In that letter, Specter and others were complaining about the eight games that will again be available only on the NFL Network nationally (as well as in their local markets over-the-air where blackout rules don't apply).
"We write today because we are disappointed that, rather than building on this success, the NFL will return to restricting games to the NFL Network beginning November 6," the legislators had written Goodell. "That the NFL would choose to have fewer viewers for select games again this year is an indication of its interest in moving toward a pay television model."
"We would most respectfully disagree with any suggestion that the National Football League has in some way limited the output of professional football programming or that it has any intention to limit distribution of NFL programming to subscription services," Goodell responded. "In recent years, the NFL has in fact increased the output of professional football programming in numerous respects, involving both live games and new and broadly distributed types of NFL shows."
The legislators pointed to the league's decision last year--under pressure from Congress--to make the Giants-Patriots game available nationwide via a multi-broadcast network simulcast, saying they hoped that was a signal of more of the same. Goodell pointed out that was a unique situation--the Patriots securing the first 16-0 regular season record--though it did demonstrate the value of NFL Network programming, Goodell argued.
Goodell also pointed out it led to lawsuits the league is still battling.
The NFL commissioner cited a recent FCC Media Burea decision upholding the merits of its discrimination complaint against Comcast and another by the Mid-Atlantic Sports Network against Time Warner, suggesting the legislators had directed their concern to the wrong party.
"Our goal," said Goodell, "is to distribute NFL Network games to a broad national audience. However, that goal has been undercut by several of the largest cable operators that are discriminating against our Network by either refusing to carry it or placing it on a much more costly tier than the sports networks that the cable operators themselves own. These cable operators are denying their consumers fair access to this popular NFL programming or charging them exorbitant monthly fees to view the Network."
"In light of the aforementioned FCC Media Bureau rulings against Comcast and Time Warner Cable, would it not be appropriate for you and your fellow Senators who signed the October 28 letter to address this blatant discrimination with those two cable operators so that your constituents and our fans would benefit?" asked the commissioner. "We are willing to meet with these cable operators at any time to reach a negotiated settlement on NFL Network distribution. "