Who's Got Games?

Although Sunday's preseason pairing between the Denver Broncos and the Houston Texans aired locally on Channel 31, coverage was actually provided by the NFL Network, a venture owned and operated by the National Football League. This fiduciary relationship may explain why the broadcast team of Spero Dedes and Sterling Sharpe (former Broncos tight end Shannon Sharpe's brother, who's pictured) were so relentlessly upbeat during the segments I caught. They came across as homers for both teams, not just one.

Establishing more credibility for NFL Network offerings is among the assignments charged to former Denver Post columnist Thomas George; as noted in this Message item , he left the paper earlier this month to take over as the network's managing editor. However, his efforts won't have the impact he'd like if the net fails to accomplish another significant goal: The NFL Network isn't currently included in the basic packages offered by most cable companies, and until that changes, fans across the country may find themselves unable to see their faves without upgrading their service or heading to a bar.

Because preseason games don't matter in the overall scheme of things, so far viewers haven't protested this situation very loudly. But the NFL Network holds exclusive rights to eight regular-season games in 2006-2007, starting with a matchup between the Broncos and the Kansas City Chiefs on Thanksgiving night. While Channel 31 or another Denver affiliate will almost certainly pay the tab to air the game, that may not be the case everywhere. According to an August 23 article in the Colorado Springs Gazette, no Springs outlet signed up to carry the Broncos-Texans scrap, and none has announced the intention to screen the Broncos-Chiefs bout, either.

When quizzed about this a few weeks back, George acknowledged that access to the NFL Network remains a major issue. "We're in a battle with cable companies," he said. "I think one of the hammers the network has is, if you want people to be able to see the Broncos and Chiefs, you should make the network part of your basic cable package." He added that "we're in negotiations with Time Warner and several other companies to increase the availability of the network, and make it more widespread -- and I really believe that as we roll forward, we're going to see the network be much easier to obtain."

If George is wrong about that, Broncos fans may forego turkey this Thanksgiving in favor of carving up cable execs. -- Michael Roberts