NFL, television and fan happiness

This past Thursday, the NFL Network aired their debut Thursday Night Football telecast, featuring our San Francisco 49ers.  More and more people are getting access to the NFL Network, but unfortunately there are still a lot of people who lack it due to their particular brand of cable, or simply because they do not have cable.  For Bay Area fans, the CW simulcasted the game, but for those outside the Bay Area, they were more or less lost, having to resort to a variety of other "tactics" to enjoy the game.

NFL.com provided some online footage, but it was meant to be complementary to the NFL Network televised product.  The NFL has worked out a deal with NBC, which allows NBC to air the Sunday Night Football game on MSNBC.com.  I don't know if or when that will happen with Thursday Night Football, but it certainly would make sense.

However, this post is more to do with general Sunday football.  I am fortunate in that I live in San Francisco and thus get the 49ers coverage every week.  However, many 49ers fans (and a sizable chunk of the users here) live outside the normal broadcasting area of 49ers games.  And since the 49ers are still on the climb back to respectability, they're not getting extended national coverage all that often.

The only legal alternatives at this point are to get DirecTV or head over to a sports bar to catch the game.  The latter option is reasonable, but the former option does not help everybody.  For example, in my apartment building, we're not allowed to get DirecTV.  If I was a fan of another team I'd be stuck having to find a sports bar and could not enjoy many of their games in the comfort of my own home.  That just doesn't seem fair does it?

For those who are unaware MLB and the NBA provide amazing opportunities to watch their games online.  The NBA's League Pass costs $150 to watch every team and every game.  For $100 you can now get a league pass for up to seven teams (a new feature this year).  MLB.com has their MLB.TV that allows folks to watch all the games, with the exception of some blackout issues.

So why doesn't the NFL have this?  Are you telling me there aren't potentially hundreds of thousands, if not millions of people who wouldn't spend a decent amount of money to guarantee they could watch their favorite team every Sunday?  I bet folks would spend upwards of $200-$300 for something like that.  And even if it's less, that's still a whole lot of money for the league.  Not to mention the sponsorship revenue they could generate with ads and whatnot on the product.

So why wouldn't the league do this?  Initially I was thinking their might be issues with the exclusivity of DirecTV.  However, if I could actually get DirecTV, I'd be more inclined to go with that and the Sunday ticket over the Internet option because I could get it in the highest of quality on a nice tv, as opposed to my small laptop screen.

The other more likely reason is the existing television contracts with the networks.  They are throwing around some serious coin in those contracts, so I'd imagine there has to be some kind of gripe to keep it off online streaming, doesn't there?  However, looking at the numbers, I don't know if I can buy into it.  NBC is paying approximately $600 million per year for the right to SNF, but they've been able to get it showing online, and that's only one game per week.  CBS appears to be paying approximately $622.5 million, with Fox paying about $712.5 million.  It involves more games, so I suppose that does make it a little more complicated.

Nonetheless, I still think it's something the NFL has to be considering down the road.  It would make your fans infinitely happier, and I'd have to imagine it would raise a whole host of revenue in the process.  And if there is a concern about cannibalizing your network audience, well first, the Red Zone channel is probably doing that already.  And second, if I could be watching a game on my computer, but still have the network option as well on tv?  Well that's just win-win-win.

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