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Published: Mon, November 2, 2009 @ 12:00 a.m.

Armstrong Cable reaches deal to air premium games

By RICK ROUAN

VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER

YOUNGSTOWN — Armstrong Cable and the NFL Network will announce a deal today to bring eight National Football League games exclusive to the network to local televisions, said a source with knowledge of the negotiations.

The cable company broadcasts the NFL Network’s regular programming, but the eight games have been blacked out in past years. Starting Nov. 12 when the Chicago Bears play the San Francisco 49ers, Armstrong customers with digital-tier cable will see all of the network’s games, the source said.

One of those exclusive games is the Dec. 10 grudge match between the Cleveland Browns and Pittsburgh Steelers, division rivals separated by 115 miles. The rivalry has deep roots in Youngstown, which falls squarely in the middle of the two cities.

When the NFL Network was first conceived, it did not include any exclusive games, though it did stipulate to cable companies that it might someday do so at extra cost. In 2006, the network began airing an exclusive package of games, typically on Thursday nights.

Since then, the NFL Network has struck deals with some cable companies. Comcast, which has the largest market share of any cable company in the country, reached a deal with the network in May.

Armstrong Cable is the latest cable company to reach a deal with the network.

A Time Warner Cable spokesman said earlier this month that the company is still negotiating with the NFL Network but would not speculate on when a contract could be done. Time Warner Cable does not offer the channel.

Cable companies have maintained that the NFL Network charges too much for the games. Both sides have refused to disclose the amount the network requests and how much it could cost each customer.

The Comcast deal, The New York Times estimated, would cost each of the company’s 10.8 million digital subscribers an average of 50 cents a month.

The NFL Network is carried on the digital tier of Armstrong Cable, which costs $12.45 on top of the $51.45 basic cable charge. Upgrading to high definition channels, including the NFL Network, costs an additional $8.95.

An Armstrong Cable official said that those cable rates would not go up this year as a result of a deal between the two companies.

“That would be part of our evaluation process each year when we look at rates,” said David Wittman, Armstrong’s vice president for cable marketing, earlier this month.

“It would be way too early to even take a guess at that,” he said.

The deal between the two companies will allow local football fans who don’t own a satellite dish to watch the games from home.

“That’s absolutely phenomenal,” said Corey Mason, 38, of New Springfield. “Every season I’ve called them and asked ‘Why don’t we have NFL Network?’”

Mason, a Raiders fan, has had to go out on Thursday nights in the past to see his team play on the NFL Network. Now, he said, he will watch from home.

For Dave Murdoch, 28, of Canfield, the deal will translate into savings for him. Murdoch said he spends $50 to $100 every Sunday at the Youngstown Sports Grille on South Avenue in Boardman.

“It costs me so much money,” he said. “I’d say that’s the best thing they could have done.”

The potential for losing customers on Thursday night, though, is not great, said Doug Esenwein, regional manager for Buffalo Wild Wings.

“I think we’ll still have a pretty strong crowd,” he said.

Esenwein said that the deal might take a small toll on business but that many people simply enjoy the experience of going out to watch games.

“There’s so many football fans to go around,” he said. “If we do our jobs enough, we’ll draw people.”


SCHEDULE OF GAMES

Armstrong Cable has reached a deal with the NFL Network to bring the channel’s eight exclusive NFL games to the cable company’s customers. All games are at 8 p.m. Thursday unless noted:

Nov. 12: Chicago Bears at San Francisco 49ers

Nov. 19: Miami Dolphins at Carolina Panthers

Nov. 26: New York Giants at Denver Broncos

Dec. 3: New York Jets at Buffalo Bills

Dec. 10: Pittsburgh Steelers at Cleveland Browns

Dec. 17: Indianapolis Colts at Jacksonville Jaguars

Dec. 19: Dallas Cowboys at New Orleans Saints (8 p.m., Saturday)

Dec. 25: San Diego Chargers at Tennessee Titans, (7:30 p.m., Friday)

Source: www.nfl.com/nflnetwork


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