Fans are "Pawns" in Ongoing Cable-Sports Impasse, Writes Prof. Jeff McCall '76

Fans are "Pawns" in Ongoing Cable-Sports Impasse, Writes Prof. Jeff McCall '76

December 16, 2007

Jeff McCall 2006 Crop.jpgDecember 16, 2007, Greencastle, Ind. - "When two football teams compete, one wins and the other loses," begins an op-ed by Jeffrey M. McCall, professor of communication at DePauw University. "You don't see the Colts and Jaguars negotiating so the game's outcome is a happy win-win for each team. This winner-takes-all setup makes for exciting football." In the featured editorial on the front page of today's Indianapolis Star "Voices" section, McCall continues, "In the business world, however, deal-making and compromises are essential. The football mentality of 'I win, you lose,' unfortunately, is what we are witnessing today as greedy sports channels and cable providers have sacked the spirit of negotiation."

The professor, a 1976 graduate of DePauw, takes aim at the ongoing battle between the NFL Network and Big Ten Network and cable providers. The two upstart networks remain unavailable on many cable systems. NFL and BTN want cable companies to offer their TV Football(2).jpgchannels as part of basic packages; the cable firms want to offer the networks as premium channels so that all subscribers won't be forced to pay for programming they may not want.

"Big Ten and NFL fans, without sympathy for either party in this brawl, just want to see the games," states Dr. McCall. "Now fans are being used as pawns by both sides in expensive PR campaigns. Each side -- big cable and the sports networks -- is working to mobilize fans to lobby on its behalf. This shameless exploitation of fans to influence negotiations tells fans how they rate. The cable companies and networks want fans' money, botch the bargaining that would allow the games to air, and then have the audacity to try to line up fans to apply pressure at the negotiating table."

The professor adds, "Compromise doesn't appear to be close. The BTN and NFL Network, may 2006 fox mccall.jpghowever, need the cable companies more than cable needs new, expensive channels. The channels could offer to cut the cost of carriage for the cable companies, or go along with the assignment to a premium tier and then boost the product's quality to where it becomes important enough for basic cable. Or, like the forthcoming Major League Baseball Channel scheduled to launch in 2009, BTN and NFL Network could offer cable and satellite distributors an ownership in the operation."

As this ongoing impasse possibly moves toward arbitration and the courts, McCall notes that basic fans stand to lose, regardless of the outcome. "Economists point out that consumers always end up paying for the costs and mistakes of the business community. So it is in the current situation. Big cable companies, like Comcast and Time Warner, make barrels of money whether or not they carry the NFL or McCall Book Viewer Discretion.jpgBTN. The NFL and Big Ten might not make as much money as they once expected from their channels, but they will make up for lost revenues by raising ticket prices or getting more money from their hefty over-the-air broadcast deals. Thus, the fans will pay in the end, with missed games on television for now, and once the dust settles, higher costs for cable television and/or tickets. Too bad the fans can't flag both sides for unsportsmanlike conduct."

Read the complete essay at College

Last month, the Providence Journal published a column by Jeff McCall on TV's Kid Nation. Earlier this year, the professor authored Viewer Discretion Advised: Taking Control of Mass Media Influences. Learn more in this previous story.

Source: Indianapolis Star