Green Bay, Wis. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said he shared the pain of Packers fans who weren't able to watch Thursday night's game on television because their local cable provider doesn't carry the NFL Network.
But the league wasn't willing to offer the game for free to all Wisconsin football fans who don't get the network in their homes. It was available on over-the-air stations in Green Bay and Milwaukee.
"You could obviously do that, and you could put it on free television," said Goodell, who spoke to reporters at Lambeau Field before the Vikings-Packers game. "But then, how do you ever get the distribution?"
Goodell denied the league was using a high-profile game broadcast - it could be Brett Favre's last appearance at Lambeau - as a bargaining chip to put public pressure on cable television operators to carry the channel.
"From our standpoint, we want our fans to see the NFL Network, not just tonight, 365 days a year, because we think we have high-quality programming," he said.
Green Bay and Milwaukee are considered home markets for the Packers, allowing a local over-the-air TV station to simulcast the NFL Network's broadcast. The same was true in Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minn.
In many other Wisconsin cities, most notably the capital of Madison, Packers fans who don't get the NFL Network weren't able to see the game in their homes.
Charter Communications, a major cable provider in Madison, is in a negotiating impasse with the NFL over rights to carry the channel.
"We have reached reasonable conclusions with a lot of the big cable operators, and some of the smaller cable operators. And we believe that we're offering value to the consumers, and I think you're seeing that," Goodell said. "I think the fans that are upset right now want to see the product. They want to see their games."
Charter wants to carry the NFL Network as part of a premium sports package, meaning only subscribers who wanted the channel would have to pay an additional fee.
"We have heard from a lot of people who are angry about not getting the game," Charter spokesman John Miller told the Wisconsin State Journal in a story published Thursday. "We want to carry NFL Network, but because they are asking such a high price to carry it, we feel the best place for it is on a digital sports tier. That way those who don't want the network won't have their bills impacted. The NFL Network is a costly service."
But NFL officials want Charter to carry the channel as part of its basic cable package, meaning every subscriber would have to pay extra for the channel, potentially exposing the cable company to complaints from non-football fans who don't want to pay extra for a channel they won't watch.
"We want to be on the broadest possible tier," Goodell said.