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TCI'S LEO HINDERY QUESTIONS ETHICS OF NFL CABLE DEAL
Published January 22, 1998
Cable companies are "outraged" over last week's $17.6B NFL TV rights deal, according to Susan Slusser of the S.F. CHRONICLE. And there "have been suggestions among cable operators that ABC underpaid ($550 million a year) for 'Monday Night Football' while sister Disney company ESPN overpaid for Sunday-night rights ($600 million) -- so that the costs could be dumped onto cable customers." TCI CEO & President Leo Hindery: "I have it on pretty good evidence that they moved things from the left pocket to the right pocket. And nobody has proved to me that the Sunday-night package should be more expensive than the Monday-night package." A recent trade publication reported "an unnamed Disney executive, overheard at a party" as saying, "I called the NFL and said, 'Go easy on ABC and sock it to ESPN, because we can pass it on.'" ESPN VP/Sales & Marketing George Bodenheimer: "I read that, and it's inaccurate, to say the least. ... I don't think anyone puts stock in unattributed comments" (S.F. CHRONICLE, 1/22). RAISE RATES/DROP SERVICE? Hindery said cable operators feel "more and more entitled" to ask questions about the NFL deal, "because all we can do about it is drop the service or raise the rates." Slusser: "But what cable operator is going to drop ESPN? It is considered a must have outlet." ESPN's Bodenheimer: "Everyone would like to pay less for everything. But this is a good long-term investment for ESPN and for cable operators." He added ESPN will have more NFL programming to create ad opportunities for operators. Slusser adds that operators "might get a bit of a break from TNT, which reportedly is considering lowering its cable fees now that it no longer has the NFL" (S.F. CHRONICLE, 1/22).