One of the shortest carriage disputes in recent memory comes from Comcast and NFL Network. Comcast dropped NFL Network and NFL Red Zone Monday, but then brought them back Tuesday. And Sports Business Journal‘s John Ourand notes that this came after NFL commissioner Roger Goodell (seen at right above) personally called Comcast CEO Brian Roberts (seen at left above):
The two sides reached a deal after the NFL's Roger Goodell called Comcast's Brian Roberts.
From last night's SBJ Media: https://t.co/PYBQxsVU8C
— John Ourand (@Ourand_SBJ) May 2, 2023
NFL Network, Comcast cut a deal.
SBJ's story: https://t.co/NqoJ7VY4LE
— John Ourand (@Ourand_SBJ) May 2, 2023
Comcast said in a statement “We’ve reached a new agreement with NFL Network and NFL RedZone and are pleased to provide their content to our customers.” And that comes after that Goodell-Roberts call. Here’s more on Goodell’s involvement from Ourand’s piece Monday night:
The NFL’s Roger Goodell and Comcast’s Brian Roberts were on the phone this afternoon, sources tell me, trying to work out a deal to keep NFL Network and NFL RedZone up-and-running on Comcast’s Xfinity cable systems. It’s highly unusual for either of these industry titans to roll up his sleeves on a simple cable carriage negotiation, so it’s significant that the two talked in the hours after NFL Network went dark on Comcast’s cable systems.
Comcast dropped NFL Network on Monday after the two sides were unable to reach a deal. The main disagreement was on price, sources said, though it is not known how much of an increase the NFL was seeking. NFL Network asked for several extensions to try and keep from going dark, but those proposed extensions were way too short to convince Comcast to play ball.
The fact that Goodell called Roberts demonstrates how seriously the NFL views this negotiation with the country’s largest cable operator.
It’s definitely significant that Goodell and Roberts both personally got involved here, and it shows the importance of these particular negotiations. As per a Comcast filing in March, the company had 16.1 million cable subscribers as of the end of Q4 2022. That’s well down from the recent peak of almost 24 million they had in Q2 2016, but it’s still a big number, and the largest of any multichannel video provider.
And while there isn’t necessarily much key programming on NFLN for the next while (outside of next week’s planned NFL schedule release) until we get closer to the 2023 season, the league still definitely wants per-subscriber revenue for the network, and wants viewers for studio content like Good Morning Football and NFL Total Access, as well as their retrospectives like A Football Life and NFL’s Greatest Games. So carriage deals like this do matter even outside of the season. The sense from many was that Comcast (the parent company of long-time NFL partner NBC) would eventually work out a deal here, but most projections had that coming closer to the season after this drop. Seeing this fast of a turnaround is remarkable.
It’s notable that this is the first major deal for NFL Network under a couple of different conditions. For one, this comes after the league’s launch of direct-to-consumer service NFL+ last summer, which includes both live and on-demand access to NFL Network. So if a MVPD drops NFLN, fans could subscribe to it on their own through NFL+ without switching providers. MVPDs have also pushed back against DTC offerings with some of the same content they’re paying to carry linearly (this is why ESPN is not going fully OTT just yet). It’s unknown if that came up in these specific negotiations, but that’s a thing to watch with further NFLN carriage talks.
The other change here is with the Sunday Ticket package going to YouTube TV, and with the dueling RedZone feeds being consolidated down to the Scott Hanson-hosted one; that means the cable version of NFL RedZone will now be the same one carried in Sunday Ticket. That maybe removes an incentive to get Sunday Ticket (many said it was the key part of their Sunday Ticket viewing), and makes the NFL RedZone offering even more important. It’s usually in a $10-11 a month tier with a number of other sports networks, and that’s much cheaper than it is to pay YouTube for the full Sunday Ticket package. So it’s important for Comcast subscribers to know that they will have that option this fall, especially ahead of YouTube’s June 6 early bird deadline.
[Sports Business Journal; top left photo of Roberts with Robert Melendez at the Drive Chip and Putt National Finals at Augusta National on April 2, from Rob Schumacher/USA Today Sports; top right photo of Goodell during the 2023 NFL Draft from Kirby Lee/USA Today Sports]