As the pre-eminent sports league, bringing in big ratings and bigger advertising revenue, the NFL Network now wants placement in everyone’s homes while providing just 20 hours of new programming for an entire year. Those 20 hours consist of 8 late-season football games. That doesn’t sound like a lot of extra programming–especially for a year-round, 24-hour network…and there’s the rub.
The NFL Network wants cable companies such as Charter Communications and Time Warner to carry its programming as part of their basic cable package. The cable companies say such an arrangement would hike the cable rates of all its subscribers, which they contend would be unfair to customers who have no interest in the NFL Network. The NFL Network wants to force its way onto basic cable so it can reach more viewers and charge higher advertising rates. That’s in addition to the hefty fees the NFL Network already charges cable companies to carry its programming.
Originally, the NFL Network charged cable providers $0.20 per subscriber to carry the channel but this was before they added live games to their broadcast schedule. The addition of live games raised that cost to $0.70. That’s a 250% increase – outrageous! When the additional costs are added together, the cost to each subscriber rises from approximately $0.57 to $2.00 per subscriber per month (Note: the per subscriber cost varies among cable providers with the range being anywhere from $1.00 to $2.00, for this blog we took the high end of the range, $2.00). If the NFL Network remained a premium channel, then only the subscribers interested in that content would pay that higher rate. Once they become a basic cable channel then every subscriber would be forced to absorb that cost and add 24.00 dollars annually to those already high cable bills. Thus, if the cable companies were to accept the NFL's terms, the NFL Network would immediately vault to being the third or fourth most expensive channel on the dial.
The first question you might want to ask yourself is: “Why is the NFL adding such expensive fare to their channel?” The easy answer is that since they are the NFL Network, they should probably be showing NFL games. Like I said – that’s the easy answer. Here is what actually led to the additional eight games. The owners of the smallest-revenue NFL teams felt they had fallen far behind those of the biggest money-makers. See, the NFL tries to ensure team economic parity but even though all the teams equally share the league's enormous television and licensing contracts, in addition to being further restrained by a firm cap on player salaries, the disparity between big-market and small market teams was showing itself in other ways. An obvious example is that franchises in bigger markets could generate money from suite sales that smaller-market teams couldn't touch…I’m sure you can think of others.
Continues in How the NFL Blitzes in Business, Part II (01/02/07)