Comcast Sues NFL, Alleging Contract Breach

Washington – Comcast on Thursday sued the National Football League to block the league from blasting emails and running Web sites that tell consumers to drop their Comcast subscription because access to the NFL Network requires an additional charge.

In the suit, Comcast said that although it bargained fairly for the right to distribute the NFL Network on a sports tier, the NFL is conducting a “multimillion dollar marketing campaign” in a breach of contract designed to “diminish or destroy the value to Comcast of that right, and thus to coerce Comcast into abandoning the right.”

Comcast filed the suit in the Supreme Court of New York less than a month after Madison Bond, Comcast’s executive vice president of content acquisition, sent the NFL Network a cease and desist letter, which also reminded the NFL of Comcast’s court victory to place the network on a sports tier.

NFL Network spokesman Seth Palansky issued a statement late Thursday that did not address the merits of the suit.

“It seems to us that, after repeatedly telling you and us that its customers don’t care about our channel, Comcast seems to be a little nervous about our perfectly legitimate efforts to make sure that consumers know all of their options for getting NFL Network,” Palansky said.

The NFL Network, an NFL-owned pay-TV channel with the rights to eight NFL games, is seeking cable carriage on nothing less than the most widely subscribed digital tier, claiming the sport’s popularity justifies broad carriage.

But Comcast and Time Warner, with 38 million subscribers combined, have fought the NFL Network on such carriage, arguing that the NFL’s demand for 70 cents per month, per subscriber was too rich to collect from millions of cable homes that are not diehard pigskin fans.

Comcast carries the NFL Network on a lightly viewed sports tiers while Time Warner is not distributing the channel at all, though TWC has offered to provide the NFL Network on a sports tier, as premium service like HBO, or show its games on a pay-per-view basis.

The battle between the NFL and the cable companies has produced no shortage of tough exchanges, with the tension mounting each week the New England Patriots preserve their perfect record.

The 13-0 Patriots need to beat the New York Jets and the Miami Dolphins before they play the New York Giants in the Meadowlands on Dec. 29 in a game that could result in the Pats becoming the first team to go undefeated and untied in the regular season since the 1972 Miami Dolphins.

The NFL Network has exclusive rights to the Patriots-Giants tilt. Cable and broadcast-only viewers in the Boston and New York markets will be able to see the game live on local TV stations that rebroadcast the NFL Network’s game feed.