Tony Romo by Kevin Terrell/WireImage.com, Brett Favre by Steve Levin/WireImage.com
The Dallas Cowboys host the Green Bay Packers Thursday in what is arguably the NFL season's biggest game to date not involving the New England Patriots. Yet much of the country won't be able to watch the contest, which is airing on the fledgling NFL Network.
The league-owned channel is available in only 43.5 million of the country's 112.8 million households because many cable companies, like Time Warner, don't feel it's worth the price the NFL is charging. (Satellite providers Dish Network and DirecTV do offer the network, and NFL Network games are also shown on free TV in the local markets of the teams playing.) The NFL has attempted to make its network more appealing by adding eight regular-season games this fall, including
(Nov. 29, 8 pm/ET) between NFC rivals Dallas and Green Bay, both 10-1.
One cable company that does offer the NFL Network is Comcast, but only as part of its Sports Entertainment Package, which requires an additional fee. "While the NFL claims that it wants its games to be seen by the widest possible audiences, it's actually their rules that limit which games fans can watch," Comcast president David L. Cohen said in a statement. "The NFL decided to take these eight games off of free broadcast television and try to enrich themselves at the expense of their fans by creating a multibillion-dollar asset called the NFL Network."
The NFL is crying personal foul, claiming that by not carrying the NFL Network on a digital-basic tier, cable companies are blocking the league's attempt to bring year-round pro football coverage to fans. (In the off-season the network airs repeats of classic games, news, interviews, etc.) "We believe that they're just putting us on the sports tier to create a new tier that can generate new revenues, and we don't think that's right for our fans," says NFL commissioner
. "We want our games and our network to be seen by the broadest possible audience. These are nationally televised games, half of which would not have been available nationally in the past."
The debate will only get louder, especially on Dec. 29 when the NFL Network has the Patriots-Giants - a game in which the Patriots could potentially be playing to complete a historic undefeated season - and much of the country won't be able to see it. So it's not really a question of who's right in this debate so much as who's being wronged.
- Robert Edelstein