The NFL's biggest and best NFC match-up of the season will be played Thursday night, and most fans won't enjoy it from the comfort of their home.
The Dallas Cowboys-Green Bay Packers game isn't on network television. The NFL Network, a digital- or satellite-only channel in the Oklahoma City market, has broadcasting rights of the game. It's one of eight NFL games to be aired on the network this season.
So as the two 10-1 teams battle for NFC supremacy, and possibly home-field advantage in the playoffs, thousands of local cable customers — and millions nationally — who don't have the network will be shut out. The blackout zones include parts of Texas and Wisconsin.
"To have a game of any magnitude and people not be able to see it, that's not what the NFL is all about,” said NBC's John Madden last week on a national conference call. "We have always had games available. We have never gone to pay-per-view or any of those types of things. To go in that direction where some fans can't see it, I think that has to be fixed.”
The chances of that happening, though, appear bleak. The NFL is in the thick of a dispute with cable companies over the league's desire to have the network be made available at no extra charge. Several cable providers want customers to pay an extra fee to have the network as part of a special sports tier.
Cox Communications, Oklahoma's leading cable provider, offers NFL Network as part of its $14 digital sports and information package.
But Comcast, the country's largest cable operator, and Time Warner Cable, the nation's second-largest, don't provide the network.
"The good news for Cox is I think we are actually the only cable company that's carrying the NFL Network,” said Cox Communications Director Christine Martin. "And so obviously we think that's a huge advantage for our customers, especially with games like this that have a lot of local interest.”
Martin said she isn't aware of any plans by Cox to move NFL Network to a basic package and couldn't say with certainty how many Cox customers have recently upgraded their packages to include the network.