Family, food and football. The great American Thanksgiving Day triumvirate. Not necessarily in that order of importance, of course.
The games themselves are often dogs (or turkeys, as my Maine correspondent points out). We watch, nevertheless, because that’s what we do, and hope for the best. The first game is traditionally in Detroit, where the Lions are traditionally, how shall we say, competitively challenged. This year we get Detroit versus disappointing Miami, definitely a turkey. The second game is always in Dallas. Cowboy lovers may rejoice but the vast majority of the NFL nation hates Dallas with a passion. Forget this America’s team business. (Full disclosure: Yes, I am a Redskins fan.) It’s hard to eat your stuffing when suffering from indigestion caused by the preening of T.O. or some other Dallas diva. Of course Dallas might actually lose, which would make the pumpkin pie taste just fine. But the NFL generally conspires to see that Dallas doesn’t, unless Leon Lett is involved or Jake Plummer has a career day. This year, with hapless Tampa Bay coming to Texas Stadium, indigestion looms.
The third game might save Thanksgiving. Yes, there is a third game this year, for the first time, a night game pitting two playoff-worthy teams and long-time AFC West rivals, Denver and Kansas City. You may not know this because a majority of the country will not be able to see the game. New York City, for instance, will be in the dark. Indigestion on a massive scale. The game will be shown only on the fledgling NFL Network (and on satellite TV), which is not carried by the nation’s three largest cable companies.
The biggest game as it turns out is not on the field but in the corporate suites. The NFL owns and operates the NFL Network and wants to build upon it as the centerpiece of a media entertainment empire that will generate untold billions of dollars in addition to the current rights and licensing fees. The NFL covets its independent control of that revenue stream so that it can continue to maintain its stranglehold on the American sporting public (and, not incidentally, maintain peace among the owners and with the players). The cable companies – monopolies in their own right – are not happy with the hefty additional fees that the NFL wants to charge. They see where
this story is going. At the very least the cable giants would like to put the network on their premium tiers, allowing them easily to pass on the costs, and then some, to their subscribers – something much tougher to do on the basic tier.
The NFL is betting that it will win this showdown; that fans will be so outraged at being denied their natural right to see all the football on Thanksgiving Day that Time Warner, et al., will come crawling back to the bargaining table. Ah, corporate monopoly capitalism, isn’t it wonderful?
In the meantime millions of Americans, full of turkey but still hungry for football, will have no choice but to see if perhaps "It’s a Wonderful Life" is being re-run on some channel or other. This recalls the Congressional hearings a few years back, when the NFL was warned solemnly that it dare not think about moving the Super Bowl off broadcast TV.
Fortunately, Charlottesville, VA is one of the fortunate few NFL Network subscribers, on premium service to be sure. I’d send you updates but I’m going to be too busy eating leftovers and watching the game. Happy Thanksgiving.