Jerry Jones is on a mission. As head of the National Football League’s NFL Network Committee and the owner of the league’s Dallas Cowboys franchise, he has a vested interest in getting the network’s eight live game telecasts – two of which feature the Cowboys – into as many cable homes as possible by Thanksgiving. I had an opportunity to talk to Jones, who told me that the league does not expect to score a Hail Mary distribution deal with MSO holdouts Time Warner, Comcast and Cablevision before its Thanksgiving night Colts-Falcons telecast. But deal or no deal, Jones said the league has no intentions of punting the NFL Network’s exclusive eight-game Thursday/Saturday schedule, and in fact could add eight more live games once the league’s current television agreement is up. Here’s part one of an edited version of our discussion:
MCN: Mr. Jones, any chance in your mind that the network will reach a distribution deal with Time Warner Cable, Comcast Cable and other operators to carry the NFL Network before the kickoff of the network’s first live game telecast of the season?
Jones: No chance. I don’t have any optimism … there’s nothing in the works and its really clear to me that they don’t have any intention of putting in on their basic digital tier.
MCN: And that’s the only way that you would consider a deal?
Jones: Yes. Our whole goal from the get-go was to have the broadest distribution for our fans, and those sports tiers just don’t do that at all. We made quite a commitment as owners to build this NFL Network, and tiering doesn’t work. That’s real obvious to us: we have over 240 cable and satellite operators that carry our games, and so its real clear to us that these three big cable companies have a different agenda – they want to tier it and build an asset for themselves.
MCN: From a business and image standpoint, how important is it for the league in general, and for you as Dallas Cowboys owner in particular, to have wide distribution of several games that will most likely have playoff implications?
Jones: Tom, one of the reasons I’m talking to you is because with Time Warner – which is in a lot of our market area – not showing our game, it deprives literally hundreds of thousands, and possibly millions of [Cowboys fans] games. We have the same fan interest in San Antonio and Austin as we do in Dallas so it’s a big concern. I want to make the point that we are building a network that at the end of the day is going to provide a 24/7 perspective about the NFL and football, so we want the asset and benefit of our games to help build the network. So we think the way we’ve done this is worth any type of criticism we may get because ultimately we’ll deliver the goods in content.
MCN: Speaking of building assets within the NFL Network, you were quoted recently as saying that potential exists in the long term of offering as many as 16 games. Will that happen anytime soon?
Jones: The possibility of having expanded games on the network is very real and the cable operators that we’re talking to understand that. We know our NFL games are the most valuable programs on television and we know it helps them add new subscribers, so it’s pretty apparent to us that they don’t have any intention of having us on their basic digital. But within this [current deal] we’re committed to eight games.
MCN: On the flip side, if the network isn’t able to significantly increase distribution, does the league have an out in which it could pull the games from the network?
Jones: We don’t have an out, and wouldn’t consider adding or taking away games without the full cooperation of our network [partners].
(click here for part 2)