Search the Site

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.