News

The Hottest ‘Ticket’ in Sports

8/02/2010 12:01 AM Eastern

The 2010 FIFA World Cup is in the rearview
mirror and now most Americans can concentrate
on the football that they truly love: the
National Football League version.

Yes, training camps opened in a summer swelter
this past weekend; Brett Favre is playing signal-caller Hamlet
in Hattiesburg, Miss., again; and NFL Network is still trying to
add some key cable operators to its distribution roster.

Along with those rites of summer come new product offerings
to entice pro football fans to pony up more
pigskin dollars. After kicking off last season, NFL
RedZone, the league’s premium scoring-update
and highlights service, will go mobile via Verizon
Communications during the 2010 campaign. For
its part, NFL.com, complementing NFL Network’s
HD telecasts of all 65 preseason games, is offering a
streaming package of the same contests for $40.

Then, there’s the perennial fan favorite, out-of-market
package “NFL Sunday Ticket,” which is facing
competition from the aforementioned vehicles. Still,
some 2 million fans love DirecTV’s exclusive package
enough to shell out $300 or so per season to check out
all of the league’s Sunday-afternoon games.

Cable operators are not so enamored. Over the years, depending
on whom one speaks to, cable has or hasn’t been able
to bid for Sunday Ticket. When Comcast couldn’t punch the
Ticket, or the rights to an eight-game slate for Versus, then
known as OLN, that wound up on NFL Network, litigation
with the league ensued over positioning of its in-house network.
Without the Ticket, CEO James Dolan has said Cablevision
will never carry NFL Network. Now, the Ticket is evidently
being brought up again in negotiations with Comcast and DirecTV
over access to the cable company’s regional sports network
in Philadelphia.

Those pleasantries aside, cable executives are about to get
$100 million worth of advertising reminders about what they
can’t proff er to their subscribers. DirecTV’s biggest push behind
the pay service kicks off Aug. 7, featuring nine diff erent
commercials about dedicated fans, displaced or otherwise.
There is also a 40-page insert in the Sept. 6 issue of Sports Illustrated,
the pub’s pro-football preview issue, and quiz material
in the form of iAds on iPhones and iPads.

Sunday Ticket could gain more traction this year. Elements
of its more expensive “SuperFan” package — including the
original RedZone channel, HD access, Game Mix
and Short Cuts (half-hour game cutdowns) — are
now part of the $300 base package. Those who want
mobile access to the Ticket have to spend an additional
$50, unless you’re a rookie — then you can
run the whole nine yards for the same $300.

For $350, DirecTV will also offer a broadband version
of the Ticket nationally to apartment dwellers
or those with poor exposure to the southern sky, after
testing the service in Manhattan last season.

Cable’s counter is with NFL RedZone, which
signed up Comcast, Dish Network, Verizon’s FiOS
TV, AT&T’s U-verse TV, RCN Corp., Blue Ridge Communications,
Service Electric, Buckeye Cablevision,
Nex-Tech, Mid-Tel Cable and Dakota Central Telecom, among
other affiliates, during its rookie year. An NFL spokesman said
other deals have been tackled this off season and negotiations
continue with carriers.

Of course, to get on the field with NFL RedZone, distributors
have to pony up for NFL Network, something that Cablevision
Systems, Time Warner Cable, Charter Communications (whose
topper, Paul Allen, owns the Seattle Seahawks) and Suddenlink
Communications have balked at doing, over pricing and
positioning issues.

We’ll see if this round of huddling results in NFL Network
adding any of those four holdouts to its lineup.

September