NFL Network Play Call: Time Warner Cable Arbitration


NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell wants to get in the huddle with Time Warner Cable president and CEO Glenn Britt.

The NFL leader sent a letter to Britt suggesting binding “baseball-style” arbitration as a means to end the carriage impasse over the NFL Network. The league, recognizing that such a process would take time, said it would make its network and the Dec. 29 game between the currently unbeaten New England Patriots and New York Giants immediately available to Time Warner Cable, upon “written agreement to participate in the arbitration process and to be bound by its result.”

In his letter, Goodell attached a term sheet, which was not disseminated to the press, for a binding final process that the NFL is “prepared immediately to enter with Time Warner.” The league's objective: have a neutral third party determine the price and tier for NFL Network on the operator’s systems, based on fair market value of the service. 

Goodell said he was reaching out directly to Britt "with a new and specific proposal to resolve our impasse in a way that will put the interests of our fans, and your customers, first --and do so in time for the December 29 game."

The NFL Network has remained locked at the line of scrimmage with Time Warner Cable. The channel has been seeking digital-basic positioning and a monthly license fee of 70 cents per subscriber. The operator maintains NFL Network should be positioned on a sports tier. 

At press time, Time Warner Cable said it wasn't in receipt of the Dec. 20 offer letter or term sheet.

Underlining the point that the operator had yet to see the materials, spokeswoman Maureen Huff issued the following statement: “Over the years we've been able to successfully reach agreements with hundreds of programming networks without the use of arbitration. We continue to believe that the best way to achieve results is to privately seek a resolution and not attempt to negotiate through the press or elected officials," she said. "We already have several standing offers for carriage of NFLN, and we remain willing to meet with Mr. Goodell and his associates at any point to try to reach an agreement that benefits both companies and our customers. In the interim, we strongly urge the NFL to consider moving the Patriots-Giants game to a broadcast network to ensure the broadest possible distribution of this potentially historic game for fans.”

The NFL’s Dec. 20 missive came as time winds down on NFL Network’s eight-game primetime slate in 2007 and its ability to leverage the potentially big match-up between the Patriots-Giants. New England, currently 14-0, faces the NFL’s worst team by record, the 1-13 Miami Dolphins, this Sunday Dec. 23. Should they win, the Patriots would seek regular-season perfection against the Giants on Dec. 29. Only one team, the 1972 Dolphins, has ever finished an NFL season without losing a contest. 

Under terms of its contract, only NFL Network, which Nielsen credits with some 43 million households, and a broadcast station in each of the participating teams' home markets, carry the service.

NFL Network spokesman Seth Palansky emphasized that any NFL Network affiliate, including Comcast, which has migrated the service to a sports tier, does have the ability to distribute the service to all of its subscribers.

Moreover, he said NFL Network would be open to binding arbitration plays for other distributors that are not on board with the service and for an extension of Comcast’s current contract, which expires in April 2009.