Television Q & A

We’ve been doing Q & As for a number of years now in order to be as transparent as possible with fans but there’s always going to be a limit to the amount I can tell you, whether for confidentiality reasons or simply sometimes just not being able to provide that level of detail that some might crave.

The one indisputable fact, however, is that there is no TV solution out there that satisfies everyone. Some fans want to be able to see their team every week, some fans want  to see football on free-to-air television, particularly in these challenging economic times. Some want as much wall to wall programming as possible. Some want live games while others want to be able to watch on delay. No matter what outcome there is from our negotiations, I accept that we will never satisfy every single need because everybody has  a different ideal solution.

That being said, negotiations did take too long to get concluded and announcements were far too late in the day and I offer my apologies once again for any inconvenience and unintentional stress that was introduced in the build-up to the start of the regular season.

So, on with your questions...

When did negotiations start with the various broadcasters and did any delay in securing one contract have a delaying effect in agreeing others?

Informal conversations started in September 2011 soon after the lockout had been resolved. The first formal sit-down meeting was at the beginning of December 2011 and was followed by a number of meetings and conversations, right up to and including Super Bowl. I think it’s fair to say that all media negotiations involving other sports, and not just us, were slowed down thereafter by uncertainty over the outcome of the Premier League negotiations and other factors such as the build-up to the Olympics. We had an internal target date of concluding negotiations by the end of March and obviously we missed that target.

Ideally, you want to have all contracts agreed at the same time. The more rights you have confirmed and agreed with one partner, the more challenging it is to secure rights with other partners because every partner has different needs. Some might want exclusivity with content or with specific games whilst others may request specific game content, so certainly if you’ve got some agreements that are out there on hold that will affect other negotiations.

There are also so many components to a contract agreement that would possibly surprise if you are not within the industry – they can be in excess of 40 pages in length with stipulations on what both parties should be doing during the contract term.

Who is the chief negotiator/deal maker when negotiating TV rights with UK TV companies? NFL US or NFL UK?

Like all good political answers, the answer is both! I head up all the TV negotiations in this office and have done so for a number of years. We have an international Media group within New York that ultimately reports into the head of Media in LA. For legal reasons our TV contracts are based under US law and therefore it needs both sides of the Atlantic working on these negotiations.

Which party insists that the details of agreed contracts are secret?

I think it is common business practice. I don’t think there is a particularly side that insists, but there might be moments where a partner will ask for specific confidentiality on something they are working on but I don’t know of any other sports who lay out their contract details. I understand that fan passion and interest in the sport is such that they want as much detail as possible but as someone who’s on the inside and who knows more than most, take it from me you would be unlikely to be satisfied once you know these details in any case. In the same way that a team might explain why their offense is spluttering or struggling you’d never expect a head coach to reveal his playbook. Sometimes we can’t put things in the public domain because we would be in a poorer place with negotiations if we did and we also know that some of our TV partners and prospective TV partners either look at our forums on a regular basis or in some cases participate in the forum under usernames.

What is the duration of the Channel 4 and BBC deals?

They both expire at the end of this season.

How come there are only two episodes of Total Access a week?

We have advertising restrictions in the UK through Ofcom regulations that the US doesn’t have. In order to make the programmes compliant and able to be aired, and to ensure that Sky or any other broadcaster does not get into serious trouble, the programmes are blurred where there are sponsor mentions and sponsor signage. It actually takes a lot of work on both sides to get the episodes up. I appreciate that isn’t enough for a lot of fans but it is an attempt to resolve some of the Ofcom driven issues.

Is there any scope for bringing back alternative games during Sky’s three-year contract?

It’s something that could happen in the future and was part of our ongoing discussions. I think one challenge is red button capacity which, particularly during Formula 1 weekends, is used to the absolute maximum. I doubt there would be anything this season, but who knows in future seasons.

How likely is it that we will have downloadable games on Game Pass in the near future (with mobile phones and apps)?

From our familiar forum friend CharlesP - NFL Game Pass is a video streaming service only and does not provide the ability to download and save games locally. We’re continuously exploring the best ways to deliver NFL games to fans living outside the US across all platforms and devices, while respecting the distribution rights within each territory. Downloading of certain NFL content (including select full games during the season) has been made available on mobile & tablet devices within the US, and we’re evaluating if/how we can make this available to fans abroad. That said, we don’t have any time table for downloadable content.

What steps are being taken to ensure announced "on demand" coverage actually gets delivered and ensure that they appear within a sensible timescale?

We are aware of the issues and we are talking to our partners to provide a more reliable and consistent service going forward. I fully agree it is currently sub-optimum at the moment.

Are there plans to show the 2013 Draft in the UK?

The Draft is not part of the current signed contracts, that’s not to say it’s not something that it’s not important to us. Broadcasters put a premium on live games and they see the Draft and other non-live game programming as less important, particularly when it comes to broadcast post midnight. The viewing numbers are modest and advertising opportunities are minimal from a broadcaster’s point of view. During negotiations you end up having to prioritise the things that are most important and the longer the list of your priorities, the more likely your negotiations will take longer. You’ll be able to guess from that statement that this year we have a lot of priorities, but ultimately at the end you have de-prioritise some things in order to get the deal done. No doubt we will return to the Draft later in the season and we remain hopeful that it will be aired in 2013.

Shouldn’t HD be standard for the NFL when shown in the UK?

All games are available in HD, whether they get shown or not in that format over here will be down to the broadcaster. There is an additional cost associated with HD as well as a lot of bandwidth issues, particularly if there are other sports being covered in HD at the same time. I think we’ll get to that stage over the next 2-3 years and progress is being made each year e.g. all Channel 4 games are aired in HD this season.

Why do fans in Germany and Australia get more in-depth NFL coverage i.e. more shows from NFL Network?

Every TV market is different. Every TV station has different priorities, different capacities, and different opportunities. If I’m in the Middle East or Asia I can watch every Saturday 3pm Premier League game live yet I can’t see a single one here in the UK. That doesn’t mean that Dubai is a stronger hotbed for English Premier League football than England itself. Our media strategy is to try to get a balance between free-to-air coverage, in order to reach out to new fans and also those who can’t afford paid TV, as well as paid TV, which offers volume, quality and in-depth coverage of our sport. Other countries will have a more straightforward proposition by being on a single channel, but they may be in a foreign language or not on free-to-air TV. I accept that for some fans in the UK that’s not great as they look to other countries’ coverage, but we are trying to balance the needs of as many fans as possible.

Why is Monday Night Football stuck behind the Red Button and is there any hope of adding HD?

There was no immediate home available for Monday Night Football and you have to remember that many broadcasters see post-midnight programming as a luxury. Also, we still want to get our games on free-to-air TV. Sky is our most important partner but free-to-air allows us to reach out to a wider group of people who can’t necessarily get Sky. Therefore, in our view this was the best option available at this point in time. We have to appreciate the pressure that the BBC is under after a successful Olympics , which has seen dozens of sports wanting to be on the BBC platform on a more regular basis. Combined with its Super Bowl and playoff broadcasts, the BBC  continues to be an important part of our overall delivery,

I appreciate the live games being shown, but why is there such a dearth of ancillary programming for the NFL in the UK?

Broadcasters place a lot more emphasis on live programming than they do on ancillary shows. If you look at the ratings, live game programming will get at least 10 times the audience of ancillary programmes therefore broadcasters will always put live programming of any sport ahead of ancillary programming.

However, tonight will see the debut of a new highlights show on Sky Sports which Sky have gone above and beyond to produce so we hope you will enjoy the opportunity to see more action from games which are not shown live.

Explain the current situation with ESPN and the complete lack of coverage on their channel?

ESPN made a decision not to bid for Monday Night Football this season and that’s their absolute right given what they prioritise and what they want to achieve. They remain excellent partners in the US and other countries and we’d like to think they will be partners again here in the UK in the future.

The other thing that I would like to stress is that often you have to make decisions for the medium term and not just the short term. A few years ago we received very similar bids from Sky and Setanta with Setanta arguably offering much greater volume of coverage of our sport. We made a decision in the end to stay with Sky given the length of our partnership and their presence in the market and a year or two later Setanta were no more. I’m not suggesting that this round of negotiations had a similar situation but the concept remains that you have to make decisions that will place you in the best position for the medium to long term during every round of negotiations.

Finally, I want to assure you that we are fans as well in this office and watch every game broadcast live and also want as much of our sport available as possible. However, you need a completely competitive market in an optimistic economy to get the best possible outcome. Overall I will maintain that we do pretty well compared to other sports of similar popularity, with our games being broadcast on Sky, Channel 4 and the BBC. There is still a lot of room for improvement and we need to increase the fan base and viewership over the next three years in order to get there and to be as attractive an offering as possible for broadcasters.

Thank you for your support and passion and enjoy the rest of the season with our various TV partners and Game Pass.

Alistair Kirkwood

We had many questions sent in and with most of them being asked multiple times we answered the following people’s questions:

Peter Heppell

Andrew Davidson

Shani Senaratne

Tony Browne

Howard Frost

James Kenny

Paul Bulstrode

Matt Bolton

Andrew Dunne

David Reid

Richard Hosker

Jane Brookes

Gareth Langley

Darren Conley