So Much For "A Deal's A Deal"

There’s an old saying that a verbal contract isn’t worth the paper it isn’t written on. Nowadays, even a signed agreement doesn’t mean squat — once enough people don’t like it and the government intervenes.

With the recent sub-prime mortgage bailout, the federal government — at the sweep of a pen — rewrote thousands of mortgage agreements because a bunch of people didn’t fully read and understand documents that they swore in writing that they did comprehend, and would live up to.

And now we have the case of the New England Patriots and their stellar season.

This Saturday, the Patriots will have the chance to complete an undefeated season. And a lot of people want to watch it.

However, the NFL had set up a system for airing the game long before the season began — it was to be broadcast over their own NFL Network, with one station in each of the team’s home market buying the rights to air it themselves. In New York, it was superstation WWOR. Here in New England, WCVB — the ABC affiliate — and their sister station, New Hampshire’s WMUR, were to broadcast it.

“Were.” That’s the key term.

Those stations had negotiated with the NFL in good faith, paid good money, and stood to reap the rewards of their foresight and good fortune by having exclusive rights to air what promised to be the most-watched game of the year — possibly even dwarfing the Super Bowl.

Sometimes, though, there’s such a thing as too much good luck. Envy reared its ugly head.

A lot of people hadn’t signed up for the NFL network, and didn’t live near enough to New York or Boston to pick up the game. They didn’t like that one bit. And when they expressed their displeasure loudly enough, Congress heard — and started making threatening noises.

As is entirely typical in these cases, John Kerry got involved. Kerry’s reputation for self-aggrandizing and grandstanding and glory-hounding is long established. He’s earned the nicknames “Liveshot” for his eagerness to appear on any TV news show for any occasion. Another politician noted that his initials — JFK — stood for “Just For Kerry,” And woe betide anyone who gets between Gigolo John and a microphone.

Kerry thundered from on high, threatening Senate investigations and scrutiny if the NFL didn’t let everyone who wanted to see the game see it — despite the deals made long before the Patriots won game 1 this season.

Well, for all the sound and fury issued by John “Waffles” Kerry, it was a letter issued by two other Senators — Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Arlen Specter (R-PA) that got the deal overturned. The NFL will allow two of the big networks to air the game as well.

The networks? CBS and NBC.

So, what happens to WWOR and WCVB? The phrase “tough shit” comes to mind. They made deals in good faith, bet a hell of a lot on their agreement with the NFL to pay off in ad revenues and exclusivity, and are now being punished for making too good a deal. And here in New England, it has to especially rankle — they had beat out the NBC and CBS stations for the rights to the games, and now they get to watch as their rivals get handed the spoils that the ABC stations had won.

I don’t care about sports in general. I won’t be watching the game. You couldn’t pay me to watch it. (Hmm… looking at my last bank statement… well, maybe you COULD pay me…) And I have no great affection for WMUR (I have several longstanding grudges against them).

But the plain, indisputable, unarguable truth here is that the agreements between the NFL and the local stations were signed, legally binding, perfectly valid — and tossed in the toilet as soon as enough people who didn’t benefit from it got upset that they were being deprived of what they saw as their “right.”

Their “right” to see a goddamned football game.

As I said, I’m not gonna be watching it. You can watch it or not, as you see fit. But if you do watch it, and see it on some channel besides the NFL Network, WWOR, WCVB, or WMUR, you’re seeing it thanks to people who didn’t negotiate or bargain or buy the rights, but simply harnessed the power of the mob to take what they didn’t earn.

Nice to see we have our priorities so straight.

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