The idea would be for the league's little-seen cable channel to join the Disney-owned ESPN galaxy and in the process allow football fans to watch late-season games that have been unavailable on most major cable systems. The WSJ reports on high-level discussions between Steven Bornstein, CEO of the NFL Network (and previously chairman of ESPN) and Disney honchos that include CEO Bob Iger. This has been a real mess for the NFL - and perhaps a lesson on the leverage held by Comcast and Time Warner Cable. Basically, the NFL demanded way more money to carry its network than the cable folks were willing to pay. League officials figured there would be such an outcry among fans come football season that the cable companies would eventually cave. But very few games held any national interest, and fan outrage never happened (excepting last Decemberís Giant-Patriots contest). From the Journal:
One possible scenario could be a combination of the NFL Network with the ESPN Classic network, which has relatively low ratings but wide distribution on expanded basic tiers. ESPN would likely use its market weight and its eight additional games to seek higher subscription fees than the 16 or 17 cents it currently receives for ESPN Classic, boosting rates to something closer to what the NFL network has been seeking, according to Derek Baine, a senior analyst for SNL Kagan. Under such a scenario, ESPN and the NFL could form a joint venture and share revenue, or ESPN could take an equity stake in the channel.