The National Football League Tackles Comcast - Fordham Intellectual Property, Media & Entertainment Law Journal
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The National Football League Tackles Comcast

The National Football League Tackles Comcast

By Jaazaniah Asahguii

Can you watch your favorite National Football League (“NFL”) team play this Sunday?  If your favorite football team happens to play in a different state than where you reside, chances are you will rarely get to see your favorite team play.  If, however, you are fortunate enough to subscribe to a cable television network that has the NFL Network package available for purchase, then in addition to you monthly cable subscription you may purchase the NFL Network for a hefty sum.

In General, the emergence of cable television has benefited countless viewers.  Subscribers find their interests catered to because the program originator finances operations by charging the subscriber, unlike commercial television, which receives funds from advertising.

Football fans get to watch their local team(s) play free due to the Sports Broadcasting Act of 1961.1 Originally, opponents of cable television argued that allowing such networks to broadcast sporting events would be duplicative and would hurt commercial television.  In the Matter of the Amendment of Part 73 of the Commission’s Rules and Regulations to Provide for Subscription Television Service.2 The Federal Communication Commission (the “Commission”), however, concluded that the sporting events aired by the cable networks were not the sporting events shown on commercial television.  The Commission considered whether the consumer would be satisfied with the selection provided by commercial television, and decided that a consumer would not be happy watching tennis when that consumer wanted to watch boxing.

Although local commercial television has the right to broadcast local teams, local commercial television’s right to broadcast teams that are not local is not protected.

The NFL’s subsidiary, NFL Network, prohibits local broadcasting stations from showing games that are not local.  Additionally, the NFL Network also prohibits cable networks from airing games without capitulating to its contractual terms.  Thus, fans who do not subscribe to a cable provider that has a contract with the NFL Network will not be able to watch games that fall outside of the Sports Broadcasting Act.

Saturday, December 29, 2007, NFL fans all over the country anxiously awaited the showdown between the New England Patriots and the New York Giants.  NFL fans all over the country wondered if the New England Patriots would be the first team in NFL history to go undefeated in the regular season since the institution of a sixteen game regular season in 1978.  NFL fans, however, feared they would not be able to access the game on their local networks.  NFL fans protested, and on this rare occasion, the NFL Network succumbed to pressure from its devoted fans by allowing local television networks to air the historic game.

NFL games may soon be accessible without subscribers having to pay for a premier package.3 If the two parties come to an agreement regarding a contract, subscribers of cable television may not have to buy a premier package.  Instead, the NFL Network will air like other cable television programs.  Otherwise, the court may impose an agreement.

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1 15 U.S.C. 1291

214 Rad. Reg. 2d 1601

3NFL Enterprises, LLC v. Comcast Cable Communications, LLC, 51 A.D.3d 52, 61 (N.Y.A.D. 2008) (reversing the grant of summary judgment)

Chris Reid