Thursday, December 27, 2007

What if they gave an historic football game... and nobody watched?

On Saturday evening, the New York Football Giants will play the New England (nee Boston) Patriots in the last regular season game for both clubs.

There is something unusual about this particular game: The Patriots are 15-0 and have a chance to become the first team ever to go 16-0 in the regular season, the first undefeated team since the Miami Dolphins went 14-0 in 1972. In 1972, the Dolphins went on to win the Super Bowl; the Patriots hope to duplicate that feat as well.

Thus a ho-hum game has become imbued with special significance... but there was a problem. The game was slated for the NFL's own cable network, the imaginatively named "NFL Network." Under the latest TV contract, beginning on Thanksgiving night, the NFL Network gets Thursday and Saturday night games to showcase before the entire country.

Such was the theory.

But it hasn't worked out that way. Cable channels charge cable systems for the right to show that channel's programs. That's one way they make money. Another is by selling commercials. Some of the "premium" channels don't sell commercials, as such (although one wonders whether the "documentaries" about the "making of" some shlock picture can be seen as anything else). These premium channels charge lots more for their rights than the so-called "basic" channels that sell commercials and time for infomercials. The rights to some "basic" channels may be had for less than some others; it all depends on the audience the cable companies hope that a channel will draw. Because the cable companies sell commercial time, too.

After buying all these rights, the cable companies offer packages of channels to their customers: The "premium" movie channels, like HBO and Showtime, are included in "premium" packages. Then there's basic ("CSI: Miami" and "CSI: New York" reruns), extended basic ("CSI: Miami", "CSI: New York", "CSI: Dubuque", "CSI: Timbuktu" reruns and 11 different flavors of "Law and Order"), and special interest tiers (you want international soccer? Music channels with actual music?).

I pay somewhere between a King's Ransom and the GNP of a developing nation each month to my cable company (I'll call it "Comcast") for two History Channels, four or five variations on the Discover Channel and the White Sox games. I can see the "Naked Archeologist" on three different channels. Whoopee! On the other hand, there's something called "The Dog Whisperer," and channels I'd never watch: Lifestyle, Oxygen, HGTV, The Food Network, The Game Network....

Last year, I also had the NFL Network. Except for the eight or 10 games that it showed live (of which maybe I watched parts of a few), I had no reason to watch that channel either: I have no interest in watching reruns of a football game, nor do I crave the latest news coming out of the Tennessee Titans offseason mini camp.

This year, Comcast took the NFL Network away.

And so began the battle of the ads. This is one that I got in the email from the NFL. The cable companies have ones that are equally shrill. It comes down to this: The NFL Network wants to set a price for its channel and dictate that its channel be included in cable customers' "basic" package. The price it wants to charge is based on those eight or 10 nights a year when it shows games live -- but the price would be the same for the cable companies on each of the other 355 days of the year. The cable companies want to bundle the NFL Network into a "sports tier" so that they can squeeze even more money from their customers.

These are multimillionaires battling to see who can take the last bit of lint out of my pocket... and I'm supposed to choose sides?

So Thursday and Saturday nights have passed in the Curmudgeon home since Thanksgiving without hearing Rich Eisen -- except for the Bears-Redskins game, that is, since the NFL Network makes games involving local teams available for broadcast.

And you know what?

I have not perceived any diminution of my quality of life. The world still spins on its axis; the Sun still rises and sets. Apparently I was not alone in this.

I believe this is why the Patriots-Giants game will be simulcast this Saturday night on the cable channel nobody gets and NBC and CBS. And local stations in Boston and New York. Because the NFL is afraid we might stop caring.

Too late?


Jean-Luc Picard said...

What a complex situation. I'm having to read it a couple of times to digest it all.

katherine. said...

just wait until football becomes the next target against performance enhancing

Jeni said...

In the area where I live -quite near to Penn State University -this past football season has been one with a lot of angry words and discussion over the "Big 10" network -which to my knowledge never worked out a deal with that same cable company you say you have there. A lot of very disgruntled Nittany Lion fans, to say the least.

Linda said...

Even though I live in New England and should be totally stoked about all this game, all I can offer up is a hearty "HOHUM!" If the NFL was hoping I would care then it's definitely too late!

Hope you and yours had a very Merry Christmas and best wishes for the coming new year!

Toni Lea Andrews said...

Having recently moved back to New England after a 23-year absence, I have been caught up (dragged kicking and screaming) into Pats Insanity. Yes, I was at that game in the freezing rain that got stopped for throwing snowballs on the field.

On the FIELD?? They should have been in the stands. We were having full on snowball fights up there. Someone from the upper deck was using my rain hat as a target. Effectively. Imagine what would have happened if I'd worn my Jets hat!

The multi-network simulcast of the game is currently the number one topic of barroom discussion in my neck of the woods. (Not that I've personally been hanging out in a lot of barrooms. I heard a rumor.)

Since even non-NFL Network subscribing pubs can now show the Saturday game on their big screens, everyone is scrambling to adverstise the biggest party. Seriously, it rivals the Superbowl in local hype level.

Lahdeedah said...

So I'm totally into the Patriots, and want to see them go 16-0, but, the team they are playing, well, it won't be much of a game, and the only way it would be interesting is if the Pats lost. OOOh then everyone would want to have seen it, but nobody expects them to.

As for the NFL network? It was in an inexpensive package, then out of the blue, got pulled (we have comcastic) and stuck in a tier full of channels we don't watch.

I called the company to cancel it, and when I told them why, they gave it to me free for six months. (But in six months, I will cancel it again...) Probably because by now, everyone is in agreement that we can all miss the 8 thursday and saturday games, as long as we get the playoffs, AND it's a bit absurd to expect fans to have to pay extra money JUST to watch their sport.

I have one side...

either give me everything for a cheap price, or let me choose my own channel line up and stop packaging crap I dont' watch (Oxygen, Lifetime, the Game Network, the Foreign Language channels...)

Shelby said...

ahhhhh the Patriots. Oh well.

Kacey said...

Cable is beginning to irk me, too, but for different reasons. I pay for the usual package while living in an "over 55" doublewide park in Florida for the winter. Unlike you, I like HDTV, Lifetime, etc. Hubby loves football and golf, but we don't get FOX NEWS and have no hope of ever getting it, since Bombastic Cable has some weird agreement with the old park board. In Ohio, in the summer, we get everything and a full load of HDTV channels from Buckeye Cable-System, including internet and phone. The problem is not cable --- it is Bombastic!

Lahdeedah said...

Well, they did it.

and the giants almost one.

and they kept pitching the NFL network, with the ads... which were annoying...

because some of us don't want football all year round, which is why no one subscribes to the network...

74WIXYgrad said...

I didn't watch.

However I have to notify you is that you have won one of the coveted WIXY's Gone Bananas Top Banana award.