NFL and Comcast try to chop-block each other

As negotiations go sour, the cable giant is threatening to take the television network of the National Football League off its programming roster altogether.

Negotiations between sports-governing bodies and TV channels are often rather beguiling.

While News Corp.'s Fox, for example, built the fourth network with the NFL its most sturdy pillar, other channels seem to fall in and out of favor.

Now Comcast, which owns some channels and controls a seemingly infinite amount of cable, is threatening to remove the NFL Network from every last strand of cable because it feels that the NFL is not quite playing ball.

Comcast has never liked the 70-cents-per-subscriber fee that the NFL charges for the its total football network, which occasionally shows a live game or two but otherwise offers quite a lot of talking about football.

The NFL seems to have gone to the Federal Communications Commission to complain that the NFL Network isn't offered as part of Comcast's standard sports package, while Versus (oh, yes, those wonderful NHL playoffs are coming!) and the Golf Channel, both owned by Comcast, are.

Comcast, on the other hand, would dearly, and understandably, like to get hold of NFL Sunday Ticket, a channel that allows those who got out of places like Cincinnati and Tampa to still enjoy their home team's games live. Currently, they can do this only on Direct TV.

Naturally, both sides are offering some necessary roughness, as the current NFL Network-Comcast deal expires May 1.

Comcast Executive Vice President David Cohen offered this long bomb to The Wall Street Journal: "In the palace of truth and justice, all these channels probably belong on a sports tier, but the leagues are not willing to do that."

Yes, not the Palace of Auburn Hills. The gilded Palace of Truth and Justice.

"Yo, how many of you can make it to my place Thursday for the NFL Network Game? I got Direct TV." CC Monica's Dad/Flickr

However, Steve Bornstein, chief executive of the NFL, offered his own strike down the middle, despite the close attentions of a ruthless safety or two: "Some cable operators talk out of two sides of their mouths...One minute, they say it's about the price, the next, they're saying it's about access to Sunday Ticket."

Is he suggesting someone might not be telling the truth? A personal foul, surely.

Will the FCC turn out to be the referee on this one? Will the two sides reach a hard-fought, swimmingly reasonable compromise along the lines of, oh, I don't know, the Camp David agreement?

When so much money clasps its hands around a beloved national sport, it's sometimes easy to forget that people just want to watch the games they want to watch without hooking up woks on their roof or cables around their wallpaper.

Strangely, the former commissioner of the NFL, the weirdly somnolent Paul Tagliabue, believes that baseball got something right, specifically concerning the way it launched their MLB Network. Cable had first dibs on out-of-market games. Then MLB Network appeared as part of a basic digital package.

I know that many people have never understood why the NFL gave exclusive rights to Direct TV for its Sunday Ticket. I mean, it's not as if you have to wok your chimney to watch other important events--like "American Idol" and "Dancing with the Stars"--happening elsewhere.

I know you'll tell me that it all has to do with money. But one might have thought that there would have been a far larger market out there if the out-of-town games were offered across multiple platforms.

Look, I'm a San Diego Chargers fan. I don't live in San Diego. I have cable. Ergo, I spend a lot of winter Sundays in sports bars.

Please, wealthy people of commerce, will you sing from the same playbook and help me improve my diet and my lifestyle? Thank you.

 

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