That's because the National Football League's television network has decided to open up Saturday night's momentous New England Patriots-New York Giants game to a national audience over "free" television networks.
Originally, the game was supposed to be shown exclusively on the NFL Network or on local TV in and around Boston and New York. Problem is, most of America doesn't have access to the NFL Network. According to a poll by AOL Sports, only 32% of respondents said they have it.
"We have taken this extraordinary step because it is in the best interest of our fans," NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said in a press release.
Yeah, right. And that was Goodell scurrying down your chimney on Christmas Eve.
With this move, the NFL is acting in its own self-interest. It doesn't want to rouse the congressional sleeping giant, which could complicate the league's ability to negotiate billion-dollar television contracts. Even if every officeholder from Maine to Long Island took the credit, Congress did a better job of looking out for sports fans than the NFL.
If the NFL cared so much about its fans, it wouldn't have frozen out so many by launching the network in the first place. The masterminds behind the NFL Network must figure this game is why God invented the sports bar.
The Patriots-Giants contest will be aired on NBC, which is owned by General Electric , and CBS in addition to the NFL Network, making this the first NFL game to be carried by three TV channels. The first Super Bowl, played on Jan. 15, 1967 and won by Vince Lombardi's Green Bay Packers, was aired by both CBS and NBC.
We can conclude that the NFL, one of the savviest and most successful sports businesses in the world, felt that it had little choice in the Patriots-Giants broadcast. The move accomplishes a few crucial objectives while affording the NFL an opportunity to claim a big public-relations victory in the eyes of unsophisticated people.
Primarily, however, the decision deflects -- for this pro football season, anyway -- the unwelcome possibility that the U.S. Congress would put pressure on the NFL. The last thing the NFL wants is for Congress, faced with an election year, to investigate the league's antitrust exemption when it negotiates TV packages with the networks.
The NFL Network has a mere 43 million subscribers. Because NBC and CBS will use the NFL's broadcasters, the league's operation will get some sorely needed exposure.
A few weeks ago, the NFL garnered some heavy criticism when the Dallas Cowboys-Green Bay Packers game, one of the regular season's marquee events, was aired only on the NFL Network. Now, the NFL will undoubtedly try to convince America that it is showing the game across the country in the spirit of holiday giving -- or something like that, I guess.
The Patriots-Giants collision highlights the final weekend of the NFL's regular season, and it has genuine historic implications. The Patriots will enter Giants Stadium holding a 15-0 record, the first time an NFL team has held that mark. The team is heavily favored to beat the Giants and conclude its regular season with an undefeated record. The 1972 Miami Dolphins went undefeated in 1972, but did so in a 14-game schedule.
The NFL's disastrous 2007
On the other hand, the NFL has had a disastrous season and certainly craved a PR boost. Among other troubling off-the-field events, the troubles of Michael Vick, the former star quarterback of the Atlanta Falcons, damaged the league's integrity.
Not so long ago, Vick was celebrated as one of the NFL's most charismatic young celebrities, and he was also a favorite on Madison Avenue. But he wa banished by the Falcons and suspended by the NFL for his role in a despicable dog-fighting ring. He was recently sentenced to 23 months in federal prison.
Yes, the NFL needs a PR victory. But don't be fooled into believing that it has developed a sudden case of altruism. This is pure self-interest at work. It's called good business.
MEDIA WEB QUESTION OF THE DAY: Who has your back as a sports fan: the NFL or Congress?
FRIDAY STORY OF THE WEEK: "The Top Player in This League? It May Be the Sports Reporter" by Richard Perez-Pena (New York Times, Dec. 24). With reports that Disney's ESPN is wooing sports journalists with compensation offers of hundreds of thousands of dollars a year, I can only hope that it's a matter of time before media columnists get our turn in the sun! .
READERS RESPOND to : "Jon: I've been around this business long enough to know that I'm not going to change your mind, but your blanket characterization of sports writers is unfortunate, and the idea that Jose Canseco 'scooped' anybody in the traditional sense was just wrong. First, yes, there are sports writers just like you describe. There are also a lot of really good reporters and writers who happen to write sports. Second, there were only two ways a massive story on steroids in baseball was going to be reported: 1) Legal proceedings that produced paper (BALCO and the grand jury) and that paper getting released or leaked (as with the Chronicle) or 2) somebody with inside knowledge of steroid use (Canseco) writing about it. Absent that, there was going to be no easily found paper trail to follow, nobody going on the record (or off it for that matter) -- no hard evidence on which to base reporting."
-- Craig Stanke
Media Web appears on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Feel free to send email to .
By Jon Friedman