Dan Liebman: Editor-in-Chief

Dan Liebman: Editor-in-Chief

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Commentary: Broad Cast

During dinner with colleagues the night of Dec. 29, a member of the party returned to the table and mentioned how the New York Giants were leading the New England Patriots in the fourth quarter. A television in an adjacent room was showing the game on CBS.

A few days earlier, National Football League officials had announced that the game, in which New England would attempt to become the first team to go 16-0 during the regular season, would be shown on CBS and NBC rather than solely on the NFL Network, which is received by less than 40% of homes in the U.S. with televisions.

It was a major concession by the league, which had repeatedly said the game would be shown only on the NFL Network. The league has been at odds with some cable companies that have refused to offer the network as part of their basic cable package.

The comments from NFL commissioner Roger Goodell were interesting, to say the least: “We have taken this extraordinary step because it is in the best interest of our fans. 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.”

Consider what Goodell packaged into four sentences:

• We are doing this because it is in the best interest of “our” fans.

• The reason we are taking this “extraordinary step” is because we have such “strong consumer demand” for the NFL Network.

• While we maintained we would not let others show the game, we now “appreciate” CBS and NBC telecasting the game to those that “deserve” to see it.

• Because of the NFL Network, and the game scheduled on the NFL Network, we now have an even stronger “commitment” to the NFL Network.

As a fan, I wonder about, but don’t need to know, the financial details that allowed the football game to be shown on a network I can watch. What mattered was that I could view the game. The same is true of racing fans, who could care less about terms like exclusivity, sub-license fees, and platforms. They want to be able to watch and wager on the races of their choosing.

Last month, the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority announced it was extending its agreement with TVG for 2008, but while the deal included exclusivity for television broadcast and distribution, it did not include exclusivity for wagering purposes. That announcement was followed a few weeks later by word that TrackNet Media Group, owned by Churchill Downs Inc. and Magna Entertainment Corp., had reached an agreement on content from the authority’s two tracks, Monmouth Park and Meadowlands.

A content agreement was also reached recently in New York, giving HRTV, which is owned by CDI and MEC, non-exclusive television rights while at the same time including a content exchange agreement between New York Racing Association and TrackNet Media. NYRA also has new deals with Youbet.com and TVG for 2008.

In California, a seven-month experiment is under way allowing all advance deposit wagering providers access to the signals from all of the state’s tracks.

In Florida, however, last week’s news involving the signal from Gulfstream Park is a step back, with Youbet.com shut out when no deal could be struck to satisfy TrackNet. Florida Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association executive director Kent Stirling said, “We had a gun to our head. We didn’t have any choice.”

We’re all for what is best for horsemen, purses, tracks, providers, sub-licensees, etc. But as Roger Goodell and the NFL reminded us, how about considering what is best for the fans? Unfortunately, the $2 bettor doesn’t appear to matter anymore.