Over the past two weeks, the NFL has been on an NFL Network crusade.
Renegade owner Jerry Jones of the Dallas Cowboys has been appointed the chairman of the NFL Network committee and commissioner Roger Goodell has hosted a conference call on the topic.
Why such a push?
League execs and the owners know that if the NFL Network doesn't increase its carriage over the next month, the NFL Network will be stuck for another season. Once the games are done, the carriers have no impetus to do anything.
But the league has two things going for it this time around.
The network only has eight games, yet two of them might be the second and third most coveted games of the season, behind the Patriots/Colts game in Week 9.
This Thursday, they'll have Packers-Cowboys, the match-up of two 10-1 teams. And exactly a month later, they'll have Giants-Patriots on a Saturday night, where the Patriots could be going for 16-0.
(The odds of the Patriots heading into this game undefeated are 76 percent, according to AccuScore.com, which simulates each game 10,000 times using current statistics and other projected factors.)
When the league gave $400 million worth of games to itself for the next six years, league officials were admitting that only games would be able to pressure the cable carriers to pick up the network on expanded basic instead of on an a-la-carte option.
But, what has become clear is that games themselves don't exert enough pressure. Today, only 30 percent of the U.S. population gets the NFL Network. Why? The people who really care are mostly in the local markets and even when something airs on the NFL Network, it is required to be shown in the local markets.
That means that in order for NFL fans to really cause a stink, people out of those markets have to complain to their cable carriers (Time Warner, Comcast) and threaten that they'll leave for Dish, EchoStar or DirecTV. What does it take for that to happen? Great games. Absolutely can't miss games that the general population need to see in their own homes. And that's what Cowboys-Packers and Giants-Patriots might be.
If the big cable carriers don't buckle before Thursday - and they've been quite resistant so far - the NFL could get one more shot in the week leading up to Patriots-Giants. And if it doesn't happen then, the NFL Network is on track to be the least successful part of the entire NFL engine.
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