NFL Should Put Fans, TV Viewers First
The NFL continues to mislead Congress and the public, accusing Comcast of depriving customers of its network. Here are the facts.The truth is that Comcast wants to carry the NFL Network. In fact, we’ve consistently offered to continue carrying the NFL Network under the terms of our current contract before it expires May 1, but the NFL has rejected our offer.[IMGCAP(1)]The NFL is the most sophisticated, lucrative and powerful professional sports enterprise in the world, with a special exemption from antitrust laws granted by Congress that helps it maintain its monopoly on televised football. The NFL already makes more than $20 billion through long-term deals with ESPN, CBS, Fox and NBC — more than the television-rights fees collected by the NBA, NHL and NASCAR combined. But the NFL wants more, and it’s trying to use its enormous market power to force millions of our customers to pay for games that they have always seen for free (even while it denies tens of millions of cable customers access to hundreds of games provided exclusively to DirecTV).Comcast currently makes the NFL Network available on a dedicated sports and entertainment tier. We view this as the best and fairest way to provide the NFL Network’s limited and expensive programming because viewers who want to watch the channel can do so, while those who prefer not to aren’t forced to cover the network’s high costs. Many other cable operators, including Time Warner, Cablevision and Charter, do not carry the NFL Network at all.The NFL consistently points to a false choice, saying it wants Comcast to carry its network on a more highly distributed tier so that customers do not have to pay extra for it. But that is not an option. What the NFL really wants is for Comcast to charge all of our customers for the NFL Network, even though the vast majority of them will never watch it. That’s why the Comcast solution is so much better for NFL fans and our customers — those who want to watch the limited content on the NFL Network can do so (and pay for it), while those who have no interest are not burdened with the costs of this expensive additional cable channel. The NFL Network provides only eight live, regular-season, out-of-market games a year and yet the network wants to charge higher fees than virtually any other national cable network. That’s 24 hours — one day — of live, regular-season NFL games every year.Because the NFL doesn’t like the terms of the contract that it signed five years ago, it has repeatedly asked the courts and government authorities to require it be changed. Contrary to the NFL’s recent claims, however, the Federal Communications Commission has made no final determinations as to whether the NFL’s claims of discrimination by Comcast are legitimate.By contrast, Major League Baseball has received broad distribution for its MLB Network by virtually every cable and satellite provider because of two words: price and value. The MLB Network is just a fraction of the cost of the NFL Network, and that low cost combined with its live baseball games creates value for consumers. Also, the MLB makes its out-of-market package available to all cable operators. Despite our offer to do what’s in the best interests of fans, we anticipate that the NFL may terminate Comcast’s right to carry the NFL Network and pull it off of our cable systems nationwide. No matter what happens, though, Beltway fans will still see every single Redskins game and all the NFL games on CBS, Fox, NBC and ESPN, including this weekend’s NFL Draft. In fact, we carry more than 250 NFL games across the country every year. (By the way, not one Redskins regular-season game will be aired on the NFL Network this season.)Nobody can doubt Comcast’s passionate commitment to giving our customers the best sports programming. We own two professional sports teams, and we bring thousands of professional, college and local sporting events to our customers each year.We have reached hundreds of agreements with other cable networks, and we typically renew our network agreements without any interruption of service. We would like to continue to carry the NFL Network. But we will do so only on terms that are fair to our customers. The NFL does not have agreements with 75 percent of other cable operators. The NFL should join us in putting the interests of fans and the viewing public first. That’s the message that needs to be delivered to the NFL.David L. Cohen is executive vice president of Comcast Corp.