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Wednesday night, the NFL officially announced that Saturday night’s game between the Patriots and Giants would be simulcast on both CBS and NBC. The game had been scheduled to air only on the NFL Network, and was seen as a major bargaining chip for the league in its ongoing battle with cable carriers. With this decision, any leverage the NFL had has now been effectively neutralized.

Don’t think that Bud and MLB weren’t paying attention. They very well may have been cracking up.

That the NFL Network has failed to become a major player would normally be somewhat troubling to baseball, which is starting up its own network in 2009. But it’s not, thanks to some nifty negotiating this past spring.

The cable industry, like most twentieth century entertainment businesses, is facing increasing competition from alternative media. The old top-down model is quickly falling apart, as most companies are at least starting to act in a more horizontal fashion. The days of cable providers enforcing their will on customers, and forcing certain channels down their throats, will surely come to an end in the not-so-distant future.

For the NFL Network, this has already come to pass. Carriers are refusing to put the station on a basic extended tier, and are instead insisting that it be part of an a la carte package (likely including some other niche sports channels). Cable stations make most of their money through subscriber fees, and being on a basic tier ensures a large number of subscribers.

But by essentially holding its Extra Innings package hostage, Major League Baseball avoided this fate. Baseball had planned to offer EI exclusively on DirecTV. When fans and assorted congressmen complained (including this writer, despite my free market sensibilities), MLB agreed to negotiate.

In the end, baseball signed on to keep EI on most cable providers, as long as the providers agreed to place the MLB Network on their basic tiers in 2009. This sets the station up for a record-breaking launch, and guarantees the sport hundreds of millions in revenues in the coming years.

Should the NFL have held held strong? They can’t use their own package, NFL Sunday Ticket, as a bargaining chip, since DirecTV already owns the exclusive rights through 2010. And keeping the game off the air would have surely caused a decent bit of outrage among the hardcore fans.

As I’ve said before, MLB’s media model is far from perfect. But they continue to out-pace their rivals in the online realm, and, incredibly, will soon do so on television as well.

Feedback? Write a comment, or e-mail the author at shawn(AT)squawkingbaseball.com

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  1. on December 28th at 01:21 pm
    robustyoungsoul said:

    Wow. I never even considered this perspective on this weekend’s game.

  2. on December 30th at 05:48 pm
    El Guapo's Ghost said:

    Bud had another chip in holding up the sale of the Braves. The sale from Time Warner to Liberty was approved after the EI/Baseball Channel deal was done and just in time for the companies to get a big tax savings.

    Also, I think the BC discussion was more about getting a large audience/ad revenue rather than subscriber fees since the providers will own a significant piece of the network.