Armstrong, NFL Network in talks to bring exclusive games to Valley

By Rick Rouan

An Armstrong Cable executive said this week that “almost daily discussions are happening” to bring eight National Football League games to local televisions.

Armstrong Cable carries the NFL Network but does not broadcast eight games that are exclusive to the channel. One of those games this year is the Dec. 10 clash of the Cleveland Browns and Pittsburgh Steelers, division rivals separated by 115 miles.

Youngstown falls squarely in the middle of the rivalry, both literally and figuratively. Many Mahoning Valley football fans find themselves sporting black and gold or orange and brown on game day.

The first of the NFL Network’s eight exclusive games is Nov. 12 when the Chicago Bears play the San Francisco 49ers. Thereafter, the network will broadcast one game every week for the rest of the season.

“You will be the first to know when a deal is completed. Almost- daily discussions are happening to try and get this done. We realize the [first] game of their schedule is Nov. 12,” said David Wittman, Armstrong’s vice president for cable marketing, in an e-mail.

The Vindicator inquired last week about the possibility of a deal being completed before the first game on Nov. 12, and Wittman said that an announcement could come soon.

A Time Warner Cable spokesman said the company is still negotiating but would not speculate about when a contract could be complete. Time Warner Cable does not offer the channel at all.

If Armstrong and the NFL Network complete a deal, customers who have the digital tier of cable that includes the NFL Network will also get the games. Armstrong’s basic cable now costs $51.45 a month and digital cable costs an extra $12.45. To get channels in high definition costs another $8.95 per month.

Wittman said last week that cable rates would not go up this year as a result of the additional games.

“That would be part of our evaluation process each year when we look at rates,” Wittman said. “It would be way too early to even take a guess at that.”

When the NFL Network first came to Armstrong Cable it did not carry any NFL games, but it did stipulate that it might do that in the future and it would cost more.

That day came in 2006 when the network began airing a package of games exclusive to the network. The NFL Network has since struck deals with some cable companies — including Comcast, which has the largest market share in the country, in May — to carry the games. Armstrong is still working out a deal.

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

“We feel very, very optimistic,” Wittman said. “I can’t be more optimistic than I am now.”

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