Friday, October 26, 2007

Jerry the Cable Guy

The NFL will hold its first ever regular season game outside of North America this Sunday, as the Giants and Dolphins play in London. It's all part of the NFL's strategy to grow international audiences and possibly even put franchises in Canada, Mexico and Europe.

But there are other audiences the NFL has to worry about, like those here in America. The league has invested millions in its NFL Network, which for the second straight season will broadcast live games starting Thanksgiving weekend. The problem is that the network still reaches relatively few people compared to the NFL games on the networks. Satellite customers get the channel as part of a basic package, but the main cable distributor (Comcast) makes customers pay for the NFL Network as a premium channel. In just one year that dropped the Comcast cable audience for the network from 7 million to about a million. The overall NFL Network audience has plateaued at 35 million.

Neither Comcast nor the NFL seems willing to budge, so the league has sent in one of its big guns--Cowboys owner Jerry Jones. The NFL named Jones as head of the league's network committee with hopes of resolving the problem and potentially doubling the league's cable audience.

The NFL is in a very strong position on this one. It has the most attractive sports programming currently available on television, and in Jones it has in charge a guy with a history of making tough, profitable deals. Comcast should cut bait and take what it can get before the entire company ends up washing windows at the Cowboys new stadium. (For more on the story go to Rick Gosselin's column in the Dallas Morning News).


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