Another drawback of antitrust regulation

by Russ Roberts on December 27, 2007

in Regulation, Sports

The NFL this year has put some games exclusively on the NFL Network, a cable offering that most fans don’t have. The New England Patriots are playing the New York Giants this Saturday night on the NFL Network. The Patriots have a chance to go 16-0 with a victory, so interest in the game has become rather intense. So a lot of fans (outside of Boston and New York who can watch the game on local TV) are disappointed. They either have to sign up for NFL Network, go to a bar carrying the game or do without. Now, the NFL has changed its mind and will simulcast the game on the NFL Network, CBS, and NBC:

"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.

Touching, but a bit weird. It punishes the people who signed up for NFL Network not just to miss this game. And of course, there’s more to the story:

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 concession.

"I think it was a smart move on their part," he said in a phone interview.

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.

So much for the rule of law. When I told my 12-year old son what had happened, he said, "But they don’t have the right."

Well, they shouldn’t have the right. But they do have the right. And even though, as a cable-free Patriots fan since 1962, I am happy to be able to watch the game, I wish it weren’t so.


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