CBS and NBC to simulcast climactic NFL game

NEW YORK (Hollywood Reporter) - Saturday’s potentially historic football game between the New England Patriots and the New York Giants will be simulcast on both NBC and CBS under an unusual deal hammered out by the NFL Network.

New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady looks during the fourth quarter of the NFL football game against the Miami Dolphins in Foxborough, Massachusetts December 23, 2007. REUTERS/Adam Hunger

If the Pats win the season finale, they will become the second team in NFL history to finish with a perfect regular-season record, 16-0. The 1972 Miami Dolphins finished the then-14-game regular season undefeated.

But Saturday’s game could have been unseen in large swathes of the country. The NFL Network is available in less than 40 percent of TV homes, and league officials have been feuding with cable operators over carriage terms. Political pressure has been applied to the league to make the game more widely available.

The full NFL Network telecast will be shown on both networks, which will pick up the production work, halftime show and booth calls of NFL Network broadcasters Cris Collinsworth and Bryant Gumbel.

Sources said the game also will be shown mainly with NFL Network commercials, providing a massive boost to the network’s advertisers by increasing by tens of millions the number of households that will see the ads. It’s possible that some local spots could be sold by network affiliates.

It was unclear whether CBS and NBC would be allowed to swap in their own in-game sponsorships or air their own pregame and postgame shows. No money is believed to have changed hands in the deal.

The pact essentially will have two broadcast networks showing the same programming in primetime. In several markets -- including New York, Boston and Manchester, N.H. -- the game will be seen on as many as four networks since it will be telecast on a local station, as previously planned, as well as on the NFL Network. The local New York station, WWOR, was reportedly unhappy about the new arrangement, saying that the NFL had violated its deal giving the station exclusive over-the-air rights for the area.

While the situation of having a game on so many networks is unusual, the NFL was believed to be in a position where they couldn’t really play favorites.

Because the matchup at East Rutherford, N.J., is an away game for the AFC, it would have gone on CBS if it had been broadcast on a Sunday afternoon. NBC, for its part, would have had broadcast rights if the matchup had been a Sunday primetime game. So the NFL opted to make the Saturday primetime game available to both.

Sources said Fox, which also airs NFL games, had not been offered the contest. A Fox spokesman declined comment.

Cable operators have been ratcheting up the rhetoric against the NFL Network, and some fans could have blamed the network for not making the game available. But the move could have been a response to pressure from Capitol Hill. Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., had called on the NFL Network to make a deal with over-the-air television, and other parties are thought to have exerted pressure behind the scenes.

Still, the deal is a boon for carriers; the NFL has been battling with such operators as Time Warner Cable and Charter, which have resisted making it part of their basic lineup, and the decision eliminates the possibility of customers putting pressure on operators.

“In light of the interest in this particular game, we are pleased that the NFL has made this decision,” Time Warner Cable spokeswoman Patricia Rockenwagner said.

A Charter representative declined comment.

At the same time, by making available one of the premier broadcasts to all over-the-air viewers, it threatens to strain lucrative deals that the NFL Network has signed with such carriers as Cox, DirecTV and Dish Network. DirecTV declined comment, while officials for Dish and Cox did not return messages seeking comment.

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said “we have taken this extraordinary step because it is in the best interest of our fans” and an NFL Network spokesman called it “a one-time decision.”

Reuters/Hollywood Reporter