NFL Network Opens Up Its Coverage—Slightly


In the wake of political pressure to broaden its definition of a team’s home market, the NFL has slightly widened its carriage policy for its network’s primetime games.

Starting with the Nov. 20 game between the Cincinnati Bengals and Pittsburgh Steelers, the pro football league opened up NFL Network’s presentation to areas served by the over-the-air stations carrying the contest.

In keeping with policy covering cable games on ESPN and in the past on TNT, NFL Network contests had been simulcast on an over-the-air station in the markets of the participating teams. While many of the stations are carried on cable systems beyond the DMA, the games were blacked out in those outer areas until earlier this month.

"We decided that people who get the local affiliate (which is showing the NFL Network game) 24 hours, 7 days per week should be able to get the game," the NFL Network said in a statement.

Prior to the start of this season's NFL Network game coverage, 13 U.S. senators wrote commissioner Roger Goodell in late October hoping to get the league to expand its definition of a team's home market. Goodell said several days later the definition would not change.

The Associated Press reported that some 50,000 to 60,000 extra subscribers to Atlantic Broadband in western Pennsylvania got to see last week's Steelers-Bengals game under the rule change.

Similarly, the Thanksgiving night contest -- the Arizona Cardinals visit the Philadelphia Eagles -- which is being carried by WPVI in Philadelphia will also be available in Harrisburg, York, Scranton and Wilkes Barre in the Keystone state. The signal for KUTP-TV, the station carrying the game in Phoenix, doesn’t extend beyond that DMA via cable carriage, according to NFL Network.

Fans in other parts of Arizona, though, will get to see the game on systems owned by Cox Communications, which carries NFL Network on its widely distributed sports and information tier.

All told, NFL Network, which is engaged in legal wrangling with Comcast and does not have distribution pacts with Time Warner Cable, Charter, Cablevision, Mediacom and Suddenlink over differences in pricing and positioning, counts some 43 million subscribers.

Through the first three games of its 2008 primetime schedule, NFL Network has averaged almost 3.6 million viewers, versus almost 6.1 million for the first three games of the 2007 season. That campaign, which saw its games kickoff on Thanksgiving night versus a Nov. 6 start in 2008, was heavily boosted by the 10.1 million who watched the Green Bay Packers lose to the Dallas Cowboys on Nov. 29, 2007. That game, pitting a pair of then 10-1 teams in a battle for National Football Conference supremacy, remains the network’s most-watched ever telecast.

Last Thanksgiving’s Indianapolis Colts-Atlanta Falcons contest tackled 4.2 million fans on average.