The league has said it provides free broadcasts in the home cities of competing teams. But 13 lawmakers said in a letter this week to Roger Goodell that the NFL is too narrowly interpreting what a home city is.
“The policy leaves behind NFL fans across the country simply because they live outside cities to which the NFL has granted franchises,” according to the letter made public Wednesday. For example, the NFL does not consider the western Pennsylvania town of Johnstown part of the Pittsburgh Steelers’ home market, the letter said.
The senators want quick action so fans in every market receive free TV access to games played by their closest team or the team it has been historically aligned to. Eight games will air this season on the NFL Network, which is available in less than 40 percent of households. The league is in a dispute with major cable companies over whether they should carry the channel as part of a basic package.
In a statement, the NFL said the goal is to provide the NFL Network to a national audience, but the “goal has been undercut by several of the largest cable operators.”
This not the first time Congress has gotten involved. Late last year, Sens. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., and Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., leaders of the Senate Judiciary Committee, sent a letter to the NFL threatening to reconsider the league’s antitrust exemption if it didn’t make games on the NFL Network available to more viewers.
Specter has also questioned the handling of the NFL’s investigation into the Patriots Spygate scandal.
In addition to Specter and Leahy, lawmakers who signed the new letter were: Sens. Jack Reed and Sheldon Whitehouse, both D-R.I.; Pete Domenici, R-N.M.; Mike Enzi and John Barrasso, both R-Wyo.; Joe Lieberman, a Connecticut independent; Dick Durbin, D-Ill.; Ken Salazar, D-Colo.; Bernie Sanders, a Vermont independent; Wayne Allard, R-Colo.; and John Thune, R-S.D.