Power plays in sports usually are reserved for hockey.
However, a power play of a different sort is unfolding regarding the broadcast of the Pittsburgh Steelers Dec. 20 game against the St. Louis Rams. Depending on who you asked, it’s hard to tell who’s being shortchanged.
In short, most residents in the region won’t be able to watch the 8:15 p.m. contest at home.
Those who subscribe to extended tiers of service offered by Atlantic Broadband and Comcast or receive their television signal via DirecTV or Dish Network will be able to watch the game on the NFL Network.
Under NFL’s rules, the game also will be broadcast on KDKA in the Pittsburgh television market.
That wouldn’t seem to be a problem for viewers in Cambria and Somerset counties who have KDKA included as part of basic cable. But the NFL has dictated that KDKA must be blacked out when the game is retransmitted in secondary markets, which includes Cambria, Somerset, Bedford, Blair and Clearfield counties.
Phil Dubrow, general manager of WTAJ-TV, the CBS affiliate in Altoona, said his station tried to buy the rights to the Dec. 20 game but was turned away. WTAJ will broadcast three other Steelers games in December.
Who’s at fault?
That’s where the blame game begins. Those on both sides of the issue have postured themselves as having the best interests of consumers in mind.
Cable carriers Atlantic Broadband and Comcast say the move to block KDKA’s signal in the local market is an attempt to force the companies to expand their basic tiers of service. In doing so, both companies say it would force them to raise rates for all their customers instead of those willing to spend more for the added channels.
David Dane, vice president of Atlantic Broadband’s Pennsylvania operations, said that fewer than half of all Atlantic Broadband customers in the region subscribe to the extended tier that offers NFL Network.
“We just don’t think that this is right,” Dane said.
“If they’re going to show the game in Pittsburgh on KDKA, I don’t see why they wouldn’t make it available to folks in Johnstown, Altoona and Clearfield as well. I think it’s discriminatory against the people who live in what the NFL would call a ‘secondary market.’ ”
The NFL Network contends it is only looking out for the best interest of its fans by demanding that its product be offered on basic cable.
Seth Palansky, director of communications for the NFL Network, said his organization does not believe that its fans should have to pay extra to receive its product.
Palansky said that 240 cable companies and both major satellite TV providers already offer NFL Network on their basic tiers and did so without raising rates. He said at less than $8 per year per subscriber, the NFL Network is an outstanding entertainment value.
“I guess the cable company doesn’t think the Steelers are important enough or that football is important enough there to offer NFL Network as part of their basic package,” Palansky said.
“I would imagine those more than 50 percent who don’t have extended basic probably do have the Golf Channel, eight shopping channels and others all readily available to them that they never watch.”
Where some of the confusion about the issue developed was that when the NFL Network carried a Steelers game last season it was available in the local market on KDKA. Palansky said that was in violation of the NFL’s broadcasting rules.
Both sides are pressuring the other to resolve the matter before Dec. 20. On its end, Palansky said NFL Network is open to striking deals immediately with Comcast and Atlantic Broadband so it is included on a basic tier before the Steelers and Rams clash.
Dane has issued a letter to Roger Goodell, commissioner of the NFL, asking that the issue be remedied. Atlantic Broadband also intends to kick off a media campaign on Monday in hopes of changing the NFL’s mind.
Atlantic Broadband does have a contingency plan.
Between Thanksgiving and the end of the season, NFL Network will show eight NFL games and Atlantic Broadband is planning to offer a discounted extended basic rate for three months so its customers can see all of the games – including Steelers/Rams.
Power plays in sports usually are reserved for hockey.
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