Is ESPN About To End The NFL Network Dispute?

Mackenzie KraemerSenior Analyst IJune 20, 2008

Could the disastrous NFL Network dispute with Comcast and Time Warner be finally coming to an end?

The Wall Street Journal reports that ESPN is in talks with the official network of the National Football League to end an embarassing dispute in which the NFL failed in its attempt to bully around some of the major cable companies, who would not bend to the NFL's will in any way.

The controversy centers around eight games a season solely shown on the NFL Network. Millions of NFL fans hoping to watch the "nationally televised games" instead have no way to access the channel through their cable boxes.

Comcast and Time Warner are the two biggest cable companies in the United States, and neither service offers the network, though Comcast does offer a Sports Entertainment package in which the network is available. They are the other party to blame for the network's absence from so many homes.

As usual, when clashes like these happen, it's the fans who take the biggest loss. NFL fans want to watch quality programming like NFL Total Access, and while the media titans and the NFL fought over millions of dollars, many NFL fans were left wondering if they could watch their teams play in certain NFL Network-only primetime games. Political pressure forced the network's hand late last year, making the message clear that the NFL Network was losing its bargaining power.

The NFL wanted to make 70 cents per subscriber, an absorbitant amount of money for a new network that only played eight games a season.

Football fans pleaded for a deal to be made, but there was not enough pressure. The network was valuable but not as much as the NFL had hoped, and both sides cared too much about making as much money as they could from a deal that years have gone without an agreement.

Recently, the NFL has been in talks with ESPN. The talks have reportedly centered around the Disney-owned sports juggernaut merging with the new network.

It is unclear exactly what would happen if a deal were to be made and how the games would be broadcast. One possibility is that the network will be combined on packages with ESPN Classic.

A deal is not imminent, but it does show that the NFL is at least exploring other options to try to appease the fans. After all, it is the fans who ultimately provide the money to make the NFL what it is.

The NFL tried to use the rights of these games as bargaining chips to force their fledgling network into the mainstream cable outlets. Together, they stole these games away from millions of fans.

Hopefully now, a solution can be found, and the fans can finally get what they deserve: all the football they want.