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Tech Industry

Comcast v. NFL: Round 2

Comcast has filed suit against the NFL claiming that the football league has slandered the cable company through its marketing campaign.

Last month I wrote about how the widely anticipated face-off between the Packers and the Cowboys didn't air on either ESPN or ABC. For those outside the Green Bay, Millwaukee, or Dallas/Ft. Worth areas, the only place to catch the game was on the NFL Network. Unfortunately the station isn't offered by certain cable companies; others, such as Comcast, only include the network as part of a special programming package leaving millions of football fans out.

Frustrated by cable's unwillingness to carry the NFL Network as part of their basic package, the company launched a marketing campaign at I Want My NFL Network! to encourage football fans to drop their cable company and sign up for satellite television (the two major satellite providers both offer the channel as part of their basic package). As BetaNews reports, Comcast struck back by filing a suit against the NFL on December 13.

Comcast said it bargained fairly for the right to distribute the NFL Network on its sports tier, so the NFL's backlash against it is a breach of contract, attempting to coerce Comcast out of that right. Its suit, therefore, is to block the NFL from publishing slanderous remarks about the cable provider.

The text inside the center graphic at reads: "Attention NFL fans: Big cable is still blocking football 24.7--Time Warner, Comcast, Cablevision and others are forcing you to pay more to watch football or blocking the action completely--Fight back! Take action now!" Visitors are invited to search for TV providers in their area that offer the NFL Network, and to contact their government officials using their form.

When it comes to any battle between corporate behemoths there is rarely a hero and a villain, and this case isn't any different. The NFL has decided to only broadcast certain games on their own network and is charging TV providers 70 cents per subscriber to carry the channel each month. Rather than pass this cost down to all of their subscribers, Comcast has relegated the station into a special sports tier; other cable companies have decided not to carry the channel at all.

After writing about the dispute last month, I asked some football fans for their thoughts. Most of the people I spoke with seemed to indicate that the NFL was being unreasonable. They pointed out that it was the football league that decided to only offer the games on their own network and weren't at all swayed by the fact that the satellite providers have opted to carry the network.

At the time, I was inclined to agree with them; I even began to feel the slightest inkling of sympathy for the cable companies. But after learning of this new lawsuit, I've returned to my original perspective. Both companies are attempting to parlay their assets and influence to bolster their profits at the expense of the other.

While Comcast's assertion that it bargained fairly to carry the network on its sports tier is probably accurate, its lawsuit can only demonstrate two possible realities. Either Comcast is incredibly vulnerable right now and stands to lose a lot of money over the NFL Network, or the lawyers at the cable outlet have nothing better to do than attack whenever they can. More than likely, it's both.

What I find interesting is the fact that the NFL isn't being sued for violating its contract with Comcast; it's being sued for slander. Unless Comcast can demonstrate that the NFL is not being truthful with its marketing language, it seems unlikely that the cable provider would have much of a case to argue defamation; it is also unclear how the terms of the existing contract would factor into the suit.

No matter how this matter is resolved, it will be the fans that will go through the most trouble. Some will seek out their local sports bar for their favorite game, others might make the switch to satellite, but almost all of them will do so begrudgingly and with growing dissatisfaction for the NFL or their cable provider.