Senators Want Their NFL TV
ALISON STEWART, Host:
Joining us now is someone that BPP listeners may remember. Yesterday?s guest host, Bill Wolff, my husband, who also happens to be ? I?m going to brag on you in a minute, Bill, okay. You?re? ready-
BILL WOLFF: You are a former ESPN producer for over a decade, so that?s the sports angle; you graduated cum laude with a degree in history from Harvard, so that?s antitrust stuff; and now you are cable news executive, so that?s the TV part of the story.
WOLFF: I?ll tell you, on paper, I matter.
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PESCA: I think, didn?t you placed well in the punt, pass and kick competition-
WOLFF: Wasn?t allowed, father was afraid of injury. I water polo instead. And, by the way, it?s not clear if Leahy and Specter didn?t send a letter to Jamie Lynn Spears? mom.
STEWART: Okay. We don?t know that.
PESCA: Well, won?t they have a bigger effect to say sent that letter, if they sent it to the NFL Commissioner-
WOLFF: I think, literally, this is what you call a grandstand play.
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WOLFF: Honestly, is this the most important thing that two U.S. senators on the Judiciary Committee need to be doing- Frankly, because people in Vermont who love the New England Patriots and people in western Pennsylvania who love the Pittsburgh Steelers, love the Pittsburgh too, this is what they?re doing with their time. I think this is the ultimate grandstand play and I think I personally feel like it?s a silly threat. I don?t think that they will revoke the NFL?s antitrust exemption.
STEWART: Let?s roll back a little bit. Why is the NFL network still available in so few homes after more than four years of existence-
WOLFF: The NFL would like to be on basic cable system and would like to get a certain amount of money each month from every subscriber no matter whether or not the subscriber watches the channel, right- You are both familiar with how cable TV works.
STEWART: Why don?t you give us, say, in one sentence.
WOLFF: In one sentence, every channel on the cable dial adds into your bill whether or not you watch the channel. If you watch - if you don?t watch CNN, it doesn?t matter. Some amount of money like a dollar or $2 per month goes from you to CNN?
STEWART: To CNN.
PESCA: Discouraged. And a lot of the channels got a couple of sense, but the NFL wants to charge?
WOLFF: So it?s a dispute over how much money will the consumer pay to the NFL to get the games and the NFL is negotiations with various cable companies across the country and they?re only in, I think, its 30 percent of American cable home. So that?s why it?s still only on such a few - small number of cable homes the money dispute about the fees.
STEWART: Let me read a line from this letter sent by Specter and Leahy, threatening the antitrust exemption. Now that the NFL is adopting strategies to limit distribution of game programming to their own networks, Congress may need to reexamine the need and desirability of their continued exemption from the nation?s antitrust laws.
STEWART: You?re reaction.
WOLFF: But it?s all part of a bigger negotiation and this is just another rattling of the sabers. It?s interesting that the senators are on the side of the cable companies. It?s not clear to me who the good guy is here. You know, the cable companies are virtual - mention oligopoly, it?s not a monopoly. But if you and I, Alison, want cable television in Manhattan?
STEWART: Whether (unintelligible) more. That?s it.
WOLFF: ?that?s it. And if they charges a thousand dollars a month, then we really got a habit. We got to pay the thousand. We can?t go to some other?
STEWART: Oh, that would be negotiated between you and me?
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STEWART: ?if that would happen. Hey, Bill, stick around because there?s another shoe to drop in this story. Roger Goodell reached out to Time Warner. Time Warner said, Mm, thanks not so much. I want to get to that issue in just a minute, as well as to the top CDs as voted by NPR listeners on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. Bob Boilen is going to join us. Hey, Bill, can you sit tight for five minutes-
WOLFF: But, of course.
STEWART: All right, stay with us. I?m Alison Stewart. That?s Mike Pesca. This is THE BRYANT PARK PROJECT from NPR News.
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PESCA: Bill, here?s my question, the whole thing is about saber-rattling and the antitrust exemption, right-
PESCA: If the NFL were to lose the antitrust exemption, would the whole league wither in the XFL suddenly would gain credibility. I mean, would the, would bad things happen if they lost that antitrust exemption-
WOLFF: If the antitrust exemption is lost, then just as in basketball where high school players are allowed to go or used to be allowed to go to professional basketball. You might see an influx of 18-year-old kids in the NFL, which could be bad for the NFL. At this point, the college football system works as a farm system.
STEWART: A theater, yeah.
WOLFF: It is right, a theater. They develop and you know, how much the NFL pays for that-
PESCA: It?s pretty cheap.
WOLFF: And you could see a franchise move every single year with no restriction. AT this point, there is some resistance to franchises moving, right- They have to apply to the league. Or, they have to go to the courts and say we want to move and then the courts have to say, you can move and it?s a process. If the antitrust exemption were lost, the league would simply lose control over some of the things on the edges that they now control.
PESCA: I don?t think it would cost the XFL to spring up. Again, I don?t think it will be a competitive league, but it would simply make it a little bit more inconvenient, a little left in the (unintelligible) I should say for the NFL to do business. At this point, it?s great to be the NFL.
STEWART: Okay, one more question before we let you go. The NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell who gets this letter from Leahy, these two senators who were saying, hey, you might take away your antitrust exemption. And he writes to the head of Time Warner cable. Goodell, though, saying, okay, let?s get involved in some sort of an arbitration that I?ll change access to the network?s games if you will engage in this kind of arbitration. And then Time Warner says no, we?re not that interested.
STEWART: What was the motivation the time Goodell reaching out like that and then what will be Time Warner?s motivation to say no-
WOLFF: So this is a grandstand played by Roger Goodell. Hey, fans, I want to give you this game. NFL network is your friend?
STEWART: I want to work with you.
WOLFF: So I think Goodell is making a grandstand play, and I think he wants to get it done. I think he wants to see the NFL network in more homes. But the driver is this New England Patriots games, which is conceivably a very lucrative proposition for the league?
STEWART: Which is next Saturday, by the way, the 29th.
WOLFF: And ? exactly. So that?s part one on the other side of it, you know Time Warner cable is extremely powerful. They own a giant - they own many giant markets, including New York City and they aren?t - every other channel they have, Fox News Channel and The History Channel and MSNBC and every other channel they?ve got, they?ve reached terms, they?ve come to terms with those channels without binding arbitration so why would they leave the fate of all of this money in the hands of some neutral third party who might rule against them-
STEWART: Bill Wolff, thanks for walking us through it.
WOLFF: You got it.
STEWART: I?ll talk to you later. I have things to discuss with you. Christmas parties and such.
WOLFF: Oh, I can?t wait.
STEWART: Okay. Bye.
PESCA: That?s how I was going to end my interview.
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PESCA: How about some news-
STEWART: From Rachel Martin right now.
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