Despite a lack of general sympathy, the NFL is attempting to apply pressure at the state level to force cable companies to carry the NFL Network on its larger tier of “expanded basic” channels. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones addressed the Texas House of Representatives’ Regulated Industries Committee in Austin yesterday, and although they said they were not seeking legislation or aribtration that would require cable companies to carry NFL Network on expanded basic, that’s more or less exactly what they wanted. In its Texas markets, Comcast makes the NFL Network part of an add-on package of sports channels for $7.95 a month. Time Warner Cable has not come to terms with the NFL for carriage. DirecTV, Dish Network and AT&T all carry the network as part of an expanded basic-like line-up. The NFL Network aired the first of eight scheduled games Thanksgiving night. They will continue through the end of the season. Despite NFL Network’s marquee match-up between the Green Bay Packers and the Dallas Cowboys Nov. 29, league attempts to sway the Federal Communications Commission to press the cable industry generated little interest. Even several media outlets, including USA Today, never champions of the cable industry, thought the NFL was overreaching. And it is. Government should not be arbitrating business decisions at all. In fact, the NFL should be careful about what it wishes for. “As America’s team, the Dallas Cowboys have millions of fans outside the home market who are being kept in the dark by Big Cable,” said Jones. “This is about fans and consumers having access to the programming they want,” Goodell asserted. Oh, really? If, as Goodell and Jones protest, cable companies are doing fans a disservice by making out-of-market games inaccessible, why allow Monday Night Football to move to ESPN? Why extend DirecTV’s exclusivity on the “NFL Sunday Ticket” package? Why not allow “Big Cable,” with its 60 percent market share, to offer the season game package, too. Why acquiesce to CBS and Fox’s demands that they rotate “doubleheader” Sundays, a deal that essentially guarantees each network, on alternating weekends, the higher-rated 4:15 p.m. kickoff slot free of a competing telecast? Better still, why not open all out-of-market games to a la carte pay-per-view? The NFL clearly has the power to do so, but it will mean less revenue from the networks, who are willing to pay handsomely for exclusivity. So what’s good for the goose is good for the gander. If the cable companies feel the NFL Network rates placement on a special tier, it’s their right to make the call, Packers-Cowboys showdown not withstanding. By the way, this Thursday, the NFL Network serves up Denver and Houston in a battle of 6-7 teams. That’s followed Saturday night by an utter meaningless game between Cincinnati (5-8) and San Francisco (3-10). Must-see TV!
Steven Titch served as a policy analyst at Reason Foundation from 2004 to 2013.