Senators, NFL Network Trade Barbs

Letter sent criticizing league for restricting some games to NFL Network

A group of U.S. Senators, led by Arlen Specter (R-Penn.), sent a letter to NFL commissioner Roger Goodell last night, criticizing the league for restricting some games to the NFL Network. 

The NFL Network and a number of cable operators, including Comcast and Time Warner, have been engaged in a carriage dispute, with the league seeking placement for the network on a basic tier and the MSOs preferring to offer it as part of a sports or premium tier.

The letter starts out by praising the league’s decision to simulcast last season’s New York Giants- New England Patriots game on NBC and CBS, rather than keeping it on the NFL-owned cable channel, per the league’s original plans.

“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 Nov. 6,” the letter says. “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.”

The NFL responded to the letter by saying that the league’s television policy for the 2008-2009 season will be the same as it has been for the last 20 years with its ESPN primetime games.

“The goal of our NFL Network games is to show them to a national audience,” the NFL said in a statement. “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.”

The league goes on to ask for the Senator’s help in resolving the issue with the MSOs.

“Any help that Senator Specter or his colleagues could lend to encourage Comcast or other cable operators to reach a fair agreement with us would be in the best interests of their constituents and our fans,” the NFL said.
Earlier this month, the FCC ruled that the NFL had made a prima facie case that the MSOs had discriminated against them, giving preferred placement to affiliated networks. As a result, the FCC referred the complaint to an administrative law judge to handle the case.