Dick Durbin of Illinois is one of a handful of U.S. senators formally demanding in a letter to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell that the NFL loosen up its television policy to allow more games aired by the NFL Network to also be broadcast in local markets.
"The letter pointed out that the league chose to have last year's regular season finale between the Patriots and New York Giants, in which the Patriots completed an unbeaten regular season, simulcast on NBC and CBS in addition to the NFL Network." the Washington Postreports today.
""We write today because we are disappointed that, rather than building on this success, the NFL will return to restricting games to the NFL Network beginning November 6," the letter read. "That the NFL would choose to have fewer viewers for select games again this year is an indication of its interest in moving toward a pay television model."
In a familiar and not-so-subtle reminder to the NFL, the senators noted that the league's antitrust exemption "facilitated the nationwide broadcast success of the NFL."
The issue is complicated by disputes as tricky as cable-TV distribution and as silly as the definition of "home city."
"The league has said it provides free broadcasts in the home cities of competing teams," AP reports. "But 13 lawmakers said in a letter this week to Roger Goodell that the NFL is too narrowly interpreting what a home city is.
"'The policy leaves behind NFL fans across the country simply because they live outside cities to which the NFL has granted franchises,' according to the letter, which was made public on Wednesday. For example, the NFL does not consider the western Pennsylvania town of Johnstown part of the Pittsburgh Steelers' home market, the letter said." The NFL is blaming cable operators.
"The goal of our NFL Network games is to show them to a national audience," the league said, according to TV Week. "However, that goal has been undercut by several of the largest cable operators that are discriminating against our network by either refusing to carry it or placing it on a much more costly tier than the sports networks that the cable operators themselves own. These cable operators are denying their consumers fair access to this popular NFL programming."
Durbin, meanwhile, is cruising toward an easy re-election, but he also seems to be cultivating new fans.
"I can't believe Durbin is actually doing something I have to thank him for," one commenter wrote on the Chicago Bears' message board.