In what it calls “an email blast,” the NFL Network is fighting Comcast’s shift of the channel from an entertainment tier reaching more than 6 million customers to a more expensive sports tier with only 250,000 subscribers, according to Variety Magazine. The email, a one-page pamphlet in the form of an advertisement distributed to Comcast customers, is headlined “Why Pay More for Your Football” and urges subscribers to “demand that NFL Network remain in your current cable package” or “demand a rebate for the loss” of the channel, with Comcast’s 800 number conspicuously included in the ad.
A ruling in New York Supreme Court last month favorable to Comcast emboldened the cabler to begin bouncing the NFL Network from its no-extra-charge digital platform to a sports tier that costs an additional $4.95 a month. Under the ruling, the NFL Network forfeited its right to continue on the 6 million customer platform by not allowing Comcast (or any other cable operator for that matter) to buy the Sunday Ticket out-of-market NFL games and by rejecting a bid by the Comcast-owned Versus network for a package of eight regular-season NFL primetime games post-Thanksgiving. The NFL sold the Sunday Ticket games exclusively to DirecTV, which made a preemptive five-year bid of $3.5 billion. And the league kept the eight primetime contests for its NFL Network.
The NFL Network is hoping that its email blitz will cause Comcast customers to cancel their cable subscriptions and subscribe to either DirecTV or EchoStar; both satellite companies carry the channel on widely circulated tiers. In addition, the network’s email attack helpfully publishes the phone numbers of DirecTV and EchoStar. In some markets, Comcast subscribers have another option: shifting to AT&T and Verizon, which have created a cable-like service and are gradually saturating existing cable markets.
This brings up some issues, as it’s hard to say how effective such a campaign will be, and it’s also hard to understand why the NFL has to go to such lengths. First of all, the NFL dominates American television. The league’s partnerships with Fox, CBS, NBC, ESPN and DirecTV bring in billions of dollars a year, regular season games easily win their time slots in the ratings race, and the Super Bowl is always the most-watched program of the year by a huge margin. Secondly, for the most part NFL Network puts out a great product. In my opinion, NFL Network is must-see TV for football fans, with the kind of news and analysis that isn’t available anywhere else. Last but certainly not least, when the NFL puts out the country’s most popular television product, and its own network does great work providing that product to viewers, why do Comcast and other cable companies need to be bum-rushed into carrying it? It’s a strange policy for Comcast, and one that its NFL fan subscribers shouldn’t have to put up with. I just do not see their motivation in this at all.