Maybe you’ve heard about these things floating around, a letter where Sen. Arlen Specter, the Pennsylanian Republican who chairs the senate Judiciary Committee, got 12 of his friends to sign a letter to NFL commissioner Roger Goodell to complain about the league’s inability to get this cable company feud resolved with carrying the NFL Network. Goodell fired a letter back, which became public today.
Here’s a link to the Specter letter (linked here)
Here’s the Goodell letter in response:
October 31, 2008
The Honorable Arlen Specter
711 Hart Senate Office Building
Washington DC, 20005
Dear Senator Specter:
I received the October 28 letter regarding NFL Network which your office emailed me and which was signed by you and several other Senators.
As you undoubtedly recall, my office exchanged similar correspondence with you the last three years regarding NFL Network distribution of games, including the Giants-Patriots unique 2007 regular season finale.
We decided to simulcast that historic game on three networks due to the Patriots’ attempt to become the first 16-0 regular season team. It was the most watched show of the television season to that point. It proved that NFL Network programming is highly valued despite cable operators’ claims that it is simply niche programming and not something that the public will watch on a regular basis. Although we made the right decision for our fans, doing so resulted in costly litigation against us from Comcast and other cable and satellite operators that we still are defending in the courts.
I want to assure you that our television policy regarding the eight primetime games on NFL Network this season will remain identical to the broadcast pattern the NFL has followed for more than 20 years with our ESPN primetime games and from 1990-1997 with our TNT primetime games.
That same television policy makes the NFL the only league that has all of its regular season and postseason games on free television, including our limited number of cable games that also are carried on free television in participating team markets. We have resisted all attempts to move our games to a special sports tier where cable operators would charge a separate monthly fee for our programming.
We would most respectfully disagree with any suggestion that the National Football League has in some way limited the output of professional football programming or that it has any intention to limit distribution of NFL programming to subscription services. In recent years, the NFL has in fact increased the output of professional football programming in numerous respects, involving both live games and new and broadly distributed types of NFL shows.
These steps, both individually and in concert with one another, have been consistently pro-fan, pro-consumer, and pro-competitive. When the FCC last reviewed NFL television policies (during its 1994 migration study), it found them to be pro-competitive and to have enhanced the output of professional football programming available to viewers. We expect that a similar review today would reach the same conclusion.
Our goal is to distribute NFL Network games to a broad national audience. However, that goal has been undercut by several of the largest cable operators that are discriminating against our Network by either refusing to carry it or placing it on a much more costly tier than the sports networks that the cable operators themselves own. These cable operators are denying their consumers fair access to this popular NFL programming or charging them exorbitant monthly fees to view the Network.
In that respect, one major development regarding NFL Network occurred earlier this month. It may very well impact the communities that you mentioned in your recent letter. The Federal Communications Commission Media Bureau ruled that we indeed had demonstrated that our discrimination charge had merit and rejected the arguments of Comcast, the nation’s largest cable operator based in your home state. The FCC Bureau also found merit in our complaint that Comcast retaliated against NFL Network, thereby also punishing consumers.
In similar fashion, the FCC Media Bureau just this week ruled in favor of the independent Mid-Atlantic Sports Network (MASN) in its discrimination complaint against Time Warner Cable which had only offered MASN on a more expensive sports tier while carrying its own competing local channel on a basic tier available to all viewers. Time Warner Cable is the country’s second largest cable operator.
In a matter of weeks, there now have been two rulings of discrimination by the FCC Media Bureau against the two largest cable operators. If it were not for such discrimination, the distribution issues that trouble both of us might well get resolved through negotiation.
We continue to seek a negotiated agreement with Comcast, Time Warner and several other major cable operators so that our fans in Burlington, Vermont; Hartford, Connecticut; Providence, Rhode Island and other similar markets will not be deprived of our package of eight Network games this season.
In light of the aforementioned FCC Media Bureau rulings against Comcast and Time Warner Cable, would it not be appropriate for you and your fellow Senators who signed the October 28 letter to address this blatant discrimination with those two cable operators so that your constituents and our fans would benefit? We are willing to meet with these cable operators at any time to reach a negotiated settlement on NFL Network distribution.
Thank you for contacting us.