Why I Hate the NFL Network

Last night the Pittsburgh Steelers hosted the Cleveland Browns, a game between two losing teams on a freezing Thursday night.

But I couldn’t wait to watch it. The Steelers have meant a lot to me for a very long time, and my 6-year-old son Solomon has become as devoted to them as he is devoted to his family, school, and friends. We even went to Steelers’ training camp this summer, and to a Steelers game in Pittsburgh in September, against Cincinnati. Here’s the photographic evidence:

Last night’s game was on the NFL Network, the NFL’s newish channel that is broadcasting six prime-time games this season. There has been quite a bit of discussion about how cable systems have not been as receptive to carrying the NFL Network as the NFL thought they would be, potentially leaving a lot of football fans unable to see these primetime games.

I didn’t know whether or not my cable provider, RCN, carried the NFL Network. So last week, in anticipation of the Steelers-Browns game, I called and was told that yes, I received the NFL Network, on Ch. 175.

Solomon was very excited to hear this. His regular bedtime is 8 p.m., and since the game was to start at 8 p.m., he got special dispensation to stay up through at least the first quarter, and longer if the first quarter was scoreless. It was pretty much an Event, and we were all looking forward to it.

So we invited some friends over, and watched a bit of the NFL Network’s pregame show, which was pretty great. Live shots of warmups, footage of Bill Cowher yelling over the years, game analysis, etc.

And then, right after the National Anthem, Steve Sabol of NFL Films came on to introduce a 30-year-old documentary film his company made about a semi-pro football team called the Pottstown Firebirds. Interesting stuff but … where’d the game go?

After a few minutes of frantic channel-surfing, I called RCN and was told that they aren’t actually allowed to broadcast the NFL Network’s live games — only the studio shows, old films, highlight shows, etc. Apparently there are two tiers of NFL Network and the top tier (the only one that I had any interest in) was more vaporware than real, at least in NYC.

I called the NFL Network’s hotline, which instructed me to call my cable company to demand that they strike a deal with the NFL Network to carry the games. Or, as an alternative, I was advised to get a satellite dish. But I didn’t think I could dash out and get one in time for me and my son and our friends to actually see the game that the network had been advertising all week.

The only good thing to come of this was seeing how my son handled the disappointment. He just brushed it off — even though he’d been looking forward to seeing this game for about three weeks — and asked if we could follow the play-by-play on the Internet. Which we did. We all went into the office, sat around the computer screen, cheered for the Steelers, admired the NFL — and, for a night at least, hated the NFL Network.


kr8tr

"So, the whining is really baffling to me. If you want to see the game, pay the necessary money to subscribe to the broadcast provider."

You make my point - I cannot even buy the NFL Channel right now.It's not an option for me... sure, I could switch to satellite, and ignoring he weather related outages, I still have 14 TVs. Got any idea what THAT costs?

And don't confuse dissatisfaction with whining. They are two different things.

Rob

badger99

interesting that you hate the NFL Network and not your bone-headed cable provider....

JP

Although I'm usually not a defender of "bone-headed" cable providers, I think in this case it is appropriate to hate the NFL Network. I've followed this story in the sports production trades, and it seems that the NFL Network is the bad actor in this case. Most cable companies want to carry the NFL Network, but because of the extra cost to them they want to carry it as a premium channel. The NFL Network wants the cable companies to carry it on their basic service tier and just absorb the cost or raise their subscriber's rate to cover it. Since a lot of people don't care about the NFL, the cable companies are reluctant to raise rates on every one to satisfy just those who want to watch the NFL Network. Even though, I'm one one of the people who'd like to watch the NFL Network, I don't believe my fellow cable subscribers should subsidize this. I'm willing to pay for it.

The NFL Network, IMO, should just go ahead and let the cable companies put it on a premium tier. Let the market decide if they value it enough to pay extra for it.

JP

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kr8tr

From what I've read the NFL channel wants even more money per user than ESPN is currently getting (and ESPN is the most expensive channel on cable).

I've been fighting this for the whole season - cable company tells me to sign a petition agains the NFL channel, NFL channel tells me to talk to my cable company. Screw both of them - I've started complainging directly to the NFL itseld, and more importantly to my team (Cowboys!) ownership.

Only the owners can fix this - and they will if we complain loudly enough. Screw the NFL channel - let's just not allow them to broadcast any games - then they'll find out exactly what people are willing to pay for their service...

Rob

ftelegdy

Most cable companies want to carry the NFL Network, but because of the extra cost to them they want to carry it as a premium channel. The NFL Network wants the cable companies to carry it on their basic service tier and just absorb the cost or raise their subscriber's rate to cover it.

For the $100+ I send my cable company (Adelphia, now Comcast) every month for cable and broadband access, I'm thankful that they realize that dipping into their profits just a bit to provide me with the NFL Network (in HD no less!) is something they should just go ahead and do.

The NFL Network is actually trying to do some good in providing a premium-style channel at no cost to you. Why hate them for that? Why not hate your cable company who chooses to squeeze every last penny of profit out of your monthly bill instead of provide you with better service?

ftelegdy

From what I've read the NFL channel wants even more money per user than ESPN is currently getting (and ESPN is the most expensive channel on cable).

I don't know for absolute certain, but I don't recall seeing as many commercials during last night's game as I do during a regular NFL broadcast. Maybe that's the reason they're charging the cable company more?

Again, I don't have proof. Just throwing it out there anecdotally.

prosa

I don't know for absolute certain, but I don't recall seeing as many commercials during last night's game as I do during a regular NFL broadcast.

Which of course means there still could have been a vast number of commercials, seeing as how a regular NFL broadcast consists of brief bits of action separated by long arrays of TV commercials.

JP

ftelegdy said "For the $100+ I send my cable company (Adelphia, now Comcast) every month for cable and broadband access, I'm thankful that they realize that dipping into their profits just a bit to provide me with the NFL Network (in HD no less!) is something they should just go ahead and do."

Yes, but where does that end? What about all the other customers that want Comcast to deliver their favorite premium channel for free? How about HBO? Can't they dip into their profits a little bit so I can HBO for free?

JP

badger99

sheez - what a bunch of whiners! :)

I remember when there used to be only 1 baseball game a week on TV. This is progress, people! :)

well - I have comcast in the Northeast - and they let Comcast put it on some premium tier offering in my area. I pay an extra $10/month for NFL, NBA, as well as international soccer!

Heck you could have come over my house, watch Arsenal - when Larry Bird's 50 Greatest moments - and settled in to watch the lowly Steelers v Browns game.

Maybe Comcast is too big for the NFL Network to squeeze?

kramsauer

That's really sad. Not the part about the NFL network, I mean that you are a Steelers fan. :-) Kidding. As far as I have thought about it, the NFL needs to cut it with the greed: You have a great league and make more money than any other sport. You are phenomenally successful and can count on being so for years to come, unless you destroy your goodwill you have been so good at generating (United Way commercials anyone?). The quickest way to do that is to be convince your audience to turn against your customers (cable and TV providers). You may end up winning the war in the end, but the battles could be bloody.

shareski

Interestingly in Canada, our national sports network, TSN covers the games so we get the best of both worlds.

The documentary was way better than the game anyway.

dmadman

as an economist I would think you would fully understand and appreciate the free market dynamics that are going on here. Obviously the cable provider is concerned about raising prices for their customers by adding the NFL Network to their line up. And obviously the NFL Network is holding out, waiting for the cable provider to cave. As for the NFL, I rather doubt they are losing sleep over some fans not being able to see the games on Thursday. They have their broadcast rights money. The advertisers might be concerned, though.

Nevertheless, since one did people think they have the god given right to see every NFL game broadcast? Hell, there are many Sundays I don't get to see my favorite NFL team because my local market carries what the networks feed them, plus they have to show my LOCAL team (which I despise). So, why doesn't this same argument apply on Sundays. Of course I DO have a choice (and so do you...). I can subscribe to NFL Sunday Ticket on DirectTV. Then I can be assured I can see any and all NFL games I want..between that and what is broadcast on local affiliates.

So, the whining is really baffling to me. If you want to see the game, pay the necessary money to subscribe to the broadcast provider. There is no law that says every NFL game has be available to every person over the air.

The NFL and the owners are not hurting over this. So, going to the owners won't help. The sponsors are the way to go. Are the sponsors getting their moneys worth for the advertisements they put on the Thursday games? Is the NFL Network feeling the squeeze on lost viewership? If so, they will eventually relent. If not, well, pay up and add it to your lineup.

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zbicyclist

These comments seem to involve a discussion of who is the bigger money-grubber: the NFL or the cable companies.

Why not discuss which is the worst venereal disease?

carty64

dmadman makes a good point, but I think the bigger problem is that the game was SUPPOSED to be on the NFL network and they were relying on it to be. The tiered system is somewhat baffling if the only aspect of the channel that you AREN'T getting is the actual NFL. I remember a couple years ago when the cable companies were threatening to make ESPN a premium channel, that obviously didn't work. I wonder if we'll see the same result with the NFL network.

*Sidenote: I have the NFL network through the basic expanded package (or whatever they call it) and there's nothing THAT interesting on it, watch ESPN classic instead

ptkelly

2 words to be happy you didn't see the game: bryant gumbel.

ftelegdy

Yes, but where does that end? What about all the other customers that want Comcast to deliver their favorite premium channel for free? How about HBO? Can't they dip into their profits a little bit so I can HBO for free?

Right now, it ends at non-premium HD channels for me (and Comcast). Any channel in HD that is not already a premium channel in it's "regular" form is not a premium channel in HD as well. So, HBO, Showtime, Cinemax, etc. in "regular" and HD are all premium channels, while HDNet, INHD, Discovery HD, and NFL Network are not because there is no premium "regular" version.

Personally, I think this works and draws a nice line between making profits and giving the end customer content that they feel they're already paying for. If I had to pay for all my HD channels, I would likely switch providers (buy a dish) so that I didn't have to pay extra for all my HD. I suppose this means the line is drawn by competition and, in my neighborhood, Comcast feels like offering the full NFL Network for free is good for staying ahead of the competition and worth the little bit of profit they sacrifice.

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juliettelucie

Do it the European way: don't watch american football at all.
That's what we do on the other side of the big pond, and I promise we survive fine (but then it's replaced by our football - your soccer - so I'm not sure if we're really that better off).

By the way, can economics explain why some sports are highly popular on some continents and not at all on others? I can't belive just culture can explain it...

dmadman

@14. YOU made the choice to have 14 TV's, so that's an issue for you to solve, not your cable or satellite provider. At some point the cost to you is not worth the benefit, obviously. At what point is getting rid of TV's worth adding the NFL Network to your viewing options?

As for cable vs satellite, the point is the market has an option for you. You just choose not to buy it. Apparently for you the cost is higher than the benefit you will receive. Obviously your current cable provider, for whatever reason, does not see the economic benefit in carrying the NFL Network on their line up.

I do agree with ptkelly that those that don't get the games on Thursday should be thankful. Bryant Gumbel makes them unwatchable

prosa

Do it the European way: don't watch american football at all.
That's what we do on the other side of the big pond, and I promise we survive fine (but then it's replaced by our football – your soccer – so I'm not sure if we're really that better off).

Your football differs from ours in one important respect. It involves much more than an average of 12 minutes of ball-in-play action during a three-hour game (according to people who've timed games with stopwatches).

TartanBill

While in Mountain View, I realized too late that the game was NFL network. The boy is a bit young to take to the nearest Steeler bar, for road warriors, however, a handy reference.

http://www.post-gazette.com/steelers/steelerbars.asp

We are, the Steeler Nation.
http://www.ericd.net/2006/01/nation-building.inc