Touchdown: Time Warner Cable Cuts Deal to Carry NFL Network

Distribution agreement brings league channel to New York, Los Angeles

After an eight-year stalemate that kept the National Football League’s in-house television network grounded in key markets like New York and Los Angeles, Time Warner Cable on Friday agreed to carry NFL Network.

According to sources close to the matter, while a contract hasn’t been signed, both parties have reached an agreement in principle. As such, it’s possible that NFL Network could become available on Time Warner Cable’s digital-basic tier before the upcoming Thursday Night Football telecast (Browns-Ravens, Sept. 27).

(Update: TWC and the NFL confirmed the deal in a joint statement released Friday at 4:54 p.m. EDT. The network will begin to go live in TWC homes on Sunday, with full penetration to be reached in time for Thursday’s broadcast.) 

“We’re delighted to have reached an agreement for NFL Network that provides a good value to our customers,” said Melinda Witmer, evp and chief video and content officer for Time Warner Cable. “We look forward to a long and productive relationship with the NFL.”

Along with the flagship network, subscribers to TWC’s Sports Pass also will have access to the kinetic look-in service NFL RedZone.

Earlier this month, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell expressed frustration with the cable giant, telling a confab of sports-business executives that he wasn’t interested in bending on price.

“We’ve made it clear to Time Warner that we’ll do a market-rate deal and we’ll be as patient as we need to be,” Goodell said. “We think it’s in the best interest of their customers [to carry NFL Network], but that’s their decision, ultimately.” 

Financial terms were not disclosed. Per SNL Kagan estimates, NFL Network commands one of the highest carriage fees among nationally distributed cable networks—95 cents per subscriber per month. The industry average is one shiny quarter.

Before Friday’s breakthrough, NFL Network was available in 60 million homes, or roughly half (53 percent) of the U.S. television universe of 114.1 million homes. ESPN, the only other cable outlet to carry live NFL games, boasts a reach of 98.8 million households.

The TWC deal will bring NFL Net closer to achieving market saturation. The nation’s No. 2 cable operator, TWC serves 12.5 million basic-video subs. Also included in the carriage agreement are Bright House Networks systems, which pass an estimated 2.06 million video subs, per the National Cable & Telecommunications Association.

In August, NFL Network made its first foray into the New York DMA, inking a carriage deal with Cablevision

NFL Net last year generated $675 million in total revenue, per SNL Kagan. Affiliate fees accounted for roughly three-quarters of the network’s take.