New York When the NFL airs the first regular-season game on its own network Thanksgiving night, it won't be available to many viewers across the country.
The league hasn't reached agreements with several major cable operators, which would significantly cut into potential viewership for today's matchup of the Denver Broncos and Kansas City Chiefs. Local outlets will carry the game, as will satellite TV and a number of cable systems that do carry the NFL Network.
But that totals only about 40 million of the nation's 111.4 million households with TVs.
Most notable among the cable companies that haven't reached deals with the NFL are Time Warner Cable, the nation's No. 2 cable operator; Cablevision, a New York-area provider; and Charter Communications.
Time Warner, for its part, says it's highly unlikely a deal will be reached in time for the first game.
Comcast Corp., the largest cable company in the country, has carried the network for two years, but as part of a digital package ordered by only about 7 million out of its 24 million subscribers. Time Warner says it's balking at a demand from the NFL that the network be carried on the most widely available basic service lineup.
The issue is cost. Spokesman Mark Harrad says Time Warner would have to pay $140 million a year to provide the channel to all 13.5 million of its subscribers in 33 states, placing it in the top five most expensive cable networks. He said the company would prefer to carry NFL Network as part of a premium service.
"If we put all expensive sports programming on the standard tier of service, that would increase our rates to all of our customers, even those who didn't particularly care about football or these games," Harrad said.
NFL Network spokesman Seth Palansky countered that other cable companies and the two main satellite providers are "happily" carrying the network.
"It's the most valuable programming a cable company can offer, and a cable company not carrying live NFL games is like a grocery store not carrying milk," Palansky said.