NEW YORK -- After weeks of insisting they wouldn't cave in,
NFL officials did just that Wednesday. Now all of America can see
the Patriots' shot at history.
Saturday night's game between New England and the New York
Giants on the NFL Network, which is available in fewer than 40
percent of the nation's homes with TVs, will be simulcast on CBS
The Patriots could become the first NFL team to go 16-0 in the
"We have taken this extraordinary step because it is in the
best interest of our fans," commissioner Roger Goodell said in a
statement after the league announced it was reversing course.
"What we have seen for the past year is a very strong consumer
demand for NFL Network. We appreciate CBS and NBC delivering the
NFL Network telecast on Saturday night to the broad audience that
deserves to see this potentially historic game. Our commitment to
the NFL Network is stronger than ever."
The NFL had claimed that the onus of making the game widely
available fell on the major cable providers with which the league
has bitterly feuded. Companies such as Comcast and Time Warner have
declined to carry the network as part of basic packages.
But lawmakers have pressured the NFL to ensure more viewers
could see the game. Last week, two prominent members of the Senate
Judiciary Committee sent a letter to Goodell threatening to
reconsider the league's antitrust exemption.
Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., who co-wrote the letter with Sen.
Arlen Specter, R-Pa., said he was "delighted" by the NFL's
"I think it was a smart move on their part," he said in a
Leahy expected to speak with Goodell again next month about the
ongoing question of how many fans will be able to see games on the
channel. Saturday's matchup wraps up the NFL Network's second
season of airing live contests, with eight per year. This one and a
key Thursday night game between Green Bay and Dallas last month
drew widespread complaints about the lack of availability.
"I never completely gave up hope, but I was getting a little
discouraged Christmas afternoon when we still had not gotten a
positive answer," said Leahy, who added that his staff members
were talking with NFL officials during the holiday.
Three television stations in the Boston and New
York areas were thrilled until they learned that two competing
networks would also be airing the game.
The league and the stations were "working through contractual
issues'' on Thursday, NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said.
"We are having private and confidential conversations with the
NFL and are very hopeful that this unfortunate situation can be
worked out to our satisfaction, in light of the fact we do have a
valid contract for exclusive broadcast rights to the Patriots vs.
Giants game in the Boston market,'' said Bill Fine, the president
and general manager of ABC affiliate WCVB.
WCVB and Manchester, N.H., station WMUR, which are owned by the
same company, and New York station WWOR had won bidding processes
for the right to simulcast NFL Network games involving local teams.
All contests on the NFL Network and ESPN are also shown on free TV
in the clubs' home markets.
"The NFL is in clear violation of their agreement with
WWOR/My9," the station said in a statement. "We fully expect the
league to honor their commitment to My9 as the exclusive free
over-the-air broadcaster for Saturday's telecast of the New England
Patriots at New York Giants game."
Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., who had urged cable and NFL executives
to settle the dispute, had a much more positive reaction to the
"I couldn't be more thrilled that as the Patriots rush toward
an historic undefeated season, football fans everywhere have won a
victory of their own," Kerry said. "With
today's announcement, the NFL showed their loyalty to the sports
fans who made the NFL an empire in the first place.
"The best news of all is that now no die-hard Pats fans will be
shut out from watching their team take aim at football history,"
Kerry said in a statement.
This will be the first three-network simulcast in NFL history
and the first simulcast of an NFL game since the inaugural Super
Bowl in 1967, when CBS and NBC televised the meeting of the
champions of the newly merged National Football League and American
"We're happy to accommodate the NFL's request for a joint
national simulcast of this potentially historic game to make it
available to the widest possible audience," said Dick Ebersol, NBC
Universal's chairman for sports and Olympics.
NBC was scheduled to air "Dateline NBC" and a repeat of "Law
& Order: SVU" during the time slot. CBS was set to broadcast the
movie "Good Night, and Good Luck" and "48 Hours: Mysteries."