After a five-year stalemate that has kept the NFL Network out of millions of Time Warner Cable households, the two combatants are said to be actively pursuing a long-term carriage deal.
Speaking to a group of fans Wednesday afternoon at the Carolina Panthers’ Spartanburg, S.C., training camp, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said the network and the nation’s second-largest cable operator are now negotiating an affiliate agreement.
“You’ll be happy to know we are in negotiations today with Time Warner. We’re trying to get that done,” Goodell said. “We believe it’s good for fans, we think it’s good for Time Warner, and we believe the market’s been set.”
Time Warner Cable is the dominant carrier in the Panthers home market of Charlotte, N.C.
Goodell made his remarks during a 45-minute question-and-answer session with Panthers partisans, the first of the commissioner’s six-stop barnstorming tour of summer training facilities.
Shortly after his chat with the fans, Goodell told NFL Network reporter Scott Hanson that the league will accept nothing short of full distribution for the channel. “When we’re negotiating with our distributors, we believe [the network] should be in every home,” Goodell said. “And we’re going to continue to push that because it’s good for football and it’s good for the people who love football.”
The interview marked Goodell’s first TV appearance since July 25, when the National Football League Players Association approved a new 10-year collective bargaining agreement.
Last September, during a live chat on NFL.com, Goodell took Time Warner to task, saying that the MSO remained “unwilling to reach an agreement to carry the NFL Network on terms that are fair and reasonable and consistent with other distributors.”
Time Warner Cable carried NFL Network for a brief period (45 days), and only on the legacy Adelphia systems it picked up in a 2006 swap with Comcast. The MSO did agree to carry a free preview of the service for one week in December 2006; since that time, NFL Network has been shut out of Time Warner’s 12.4 million households.
The usual beefs about tiering and fees are at the root of the longstanding dispute. Five years ago, NFL Network leased its signal at a rate of 60 cents per subscriber per month; today, the carriage fee hovers at around 75 cents—the fifth-highest rate on TV.
By comparison, MLB Network charges a carriage fee of 25 cents per month. That relatively low rate has helped MLB Net find its way into 57 million homes in just two-and-a-half years. The more established NFL Network is now available to some 62 million subs.
(MLB Net also benefits from its panel of MSO backers. Along with the league, which owns a 67 percent stake in the property, MLB Net is supported by Time Warner, Comcast, Cox Communications, and DirecTV. Of the top carriers, only Dish Network has failed to come to terms with the baseball channel.)
Goodell’s announcement comes just days after NFL Network hashed out a deal with Charter Communications, the nation’s fourth-largest cable operator and sixth-largest carrier. Under terms of that distribution agreement, Charter will carry the 24/7 cable channel and NFL RedZone, a game day channel that offers look-ins and highlights every Sunday during the regular season.
Charter will begin rolling out NFL Network on its “digital view plus” tier, which costs $10 more per month than the operator’s expanded-basic package. The RedZone wrinkle will become available via Charter’s sports tiers starting Sept. 11, the first Sunday of the 2011-12 NFL campaign.
Negotiations between Charter and the NFL began in March. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.
As for getting a Time Warner deal locked up in time for the opening kickoff, a solution may lie in bilateral compromise. The MSO could offer to carry NFL Network on a more widely distributed basic digital package, in exchange for a reduced rate—perhaps as little as 50 cents per sub.
NFL Network carries a package of eight Thursday night games in the latter half of the regular season. A new lineup of September and October contests could be introduced as early as 2012, although Goodell was cagey about the league’s near-term plans.
“The Thursday night package has been incredibly successful on NFL Network,” he told Hanson. “Expanding that is something we’re going to evaluate, and consider that with our existing partners and new partners.”
NFL Network in 2010 took in $90.4 million in net ad sales revenue, according to SNL Kagan data, up 38 percent from the prior year’s haul ($65.5 million).