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Blame the NFL Network

There I sat on Saturday evening, happily ensconced in my Gotham apartment as a blizzard raged outside and my newborn boy sleeping peacefully in the next room, leaving me alone in blissful solitude. So with one of the tastiest American craft IPA's as a companion, I sat down to watch the Cowboys-Saints game. But then just as I reached for the remote I remembered - short term memory for a new father is about as reliable as that for a cannabis connoisseur - that the game was on the NFL Network. I mistakenly had thought that the important NFC encounter was going to be televised on Fox or CBS.

Alas - night ruined, mood spoiled.

Once again those who subscribe to one of the largest cable providers, Time Warner, were unable to watch games the NFLN carries during the regular season except for when a local team is a participant in the contest. The intractable positions staked out by the cable companies and the NFLN are an affront to their clients - the sports fan - to which they are supposed to serve.

A rather trivial and insignificant problem on the scale of things but nonetheless a pointless and needless hindrance to a fan's enjoyment.

One would think that in this time of deep fiscal problems affecting nearly every strata of our country that there'd be some willingness on the part of the NFLN and the cable companies to come to a reasonable settlement on the matter so that the millions of subscribers who are left out can mitigate a little of their winter misery by enjoying a few bonus games. Actually, in an unintended way, fans not being able to watch the game at home has actually been a help to at least one sector of the economy as those diehards who must watch their team have no other option than to go out and spend money at their local sports bar.

I mean wouldn't this be basic good business practice, to put the needs of the consumer first while still reaping a solid profit? The NFLN is remaining intransigent at their own peril - they're choosing to ignore the benefits of just a little sacrifice which would result in a significant increase in revenue. They're getting mired down in minutia, missing the bigger picture of expanding their base. Seems like an epidemic of late in this nation as the blind, partisan rancor in Washington in recent days has shown.

At least there's been a sizable amount of outcry when it comes to Congress' handling of health care, wherever one's loyalty is placed. But it seems that there hasn't been as significant degree of anger directed at the NFLN - and this speaks volumes. Maybe the fans don't really need it? Perhaps there's already too much football on different days and it's tough to keep track of it all? While this is most likely not the case, the official media arm of the NFL would be wise to alter their stance immediately.

Because the cable companies will never budge. Time Warner's basic argument - one that I tend to agree with, albeit barely, if I had to choose sides - is that eight games (most out of the subscribers' region) do not justify inclusion on a basic package. Rather, TW is offering the NFLN on a sports tier package, like they do with MLB and other sports networks. This is an overall reasonable argument.

The NFLN has everything to lose while TW has little to gain. Even if there's a massive revolt among the most ardent football fans who have TW as their carrier, the few that would switch to a different cable company would not merit the cost that carrying the NFLN on a basic package would incur.

It was reported that the ratings for the Cowboys-Saints game were the highest ever for the NFLN, with the game attracting 10.5 million viewers. Just think how much larger those numbers would have been had all pigskin fans in the New York area been able to watch it? There's little reason for Time Warner to change their position, they have little to lose. And the NFLN would be well advised to cut a deal and fast.

For decades now we've been told that football has clearly supplanted baseball as our national pastime. And from the enthusiasm, passion and extreme fanaticism on display every autumn and winter I wouldn't disagree. So with this in mind and in the spirit of the season, those in the Park Avenue offices of the NFL would be well advised to play the role of Santa and cut a deal with Time Warner. Maybe there's still time to salvage the last game of the year by the NFLN, the Christmas Day battle between the San Diego Chargers and the suddenly surging Tennessee.

And by the way, does anyone remember when cable TV meant no ads - that's why one was paying to have this special service in the first place when it started out in the 1970's. Most forget that fact. Longer memories would do us all good when putting priorities in perspective.

 

Award-winning columnist Tim Joyce provides regular commentary for RealClearSports. His work has also appeared in Yahoo.com, MSNBC.com, and Tennis Week. Email: joyce.timothy@gmail.com

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