Shades of ’72: Some Steelers fans may not see Thursday night game
For the first time since the season of Franco Harris’ famed “Immaculate Reception,” a Pittsburgh Steelers game may not be available via over-the-air TV or cable in areas with large clusters of Steelers fans.
The Steelers-St. Louis Rams game, one that has significant playoff implications, is supposed to be available only to viewers who receive the NFL Network or are in Pittsburgh station KDKA-TV’s designated market area.
For KDKA, that means viewers in Allegheny, Armstrong, Beaver, Butler, Fayette, Forest, Greene, Indiana, Lawrence, Venango, Washington and Westmoreland counties in Pennsylvania, Monongalia and Preston counties in West Virginia and Garrett County in Maryland.
KDKA is carried on various cable companies outside of those counties, but under the NFL’s TV policy those outlets are required to black out the game.
“We are available on 245 different cable and satellite provider, but yes, Steelers fans outside of the Pittsburgh DMA will not get the KDKA feed and thus need to view NFL Network to see it,” NFL Network spokesman Seth Palansky said Monday in an e-mail to The Associated Press.
The decision to block viewers who don’t receive the NFL Network or can’t get KDKA via antenna in Steelers strongholds such as Bedford and Somerset counties in western Pennsylvania, plus northern West Virginia and eastern Ohio was not made by the Steelers.
Instead, the NFL is using an eight-game, end-of-the-season package of Thursday and Saturday night games — including the Steelers-Rams game — to ramp up pressure on cable companies to add the NFL Network. Currently, about 40 percent of the nation’s TV viewers can see the network.
The NFL policy that requires cable companies that want the NFL Network to carry it on their basic tiers, at a cost of about 80 cents per month for every subscriber, is under scrutiny from lawmakers and the court system.
In Texas, legislators were swamped with phone calls and e-mails after the Nov. 29 game between NFC powers Dallas and Green Bay was unavailable in much of the state.
Many cable companies argue that they should be allowed to place the network on extra-cost tiers, where those who want the programming can pay extra to receive it. Cable giant Comcast recently won a court fight that allows it to carry the NFL Network on a premium, extra-cost tier.
Satellite companies DirecTV and the Dish Network make the NFL Network available to all subscribers.
A Thursday night Browns-Steelers game last season was shown only on the NFL Network, plus KDKA-TV and a Cleveland station. However, there was little outcry afterward by Steelers fans who couldn’t see the game, apparently because some cable companies outside of KDKA’s designated market area carried it in violation of NFL broadcasting rules.
Curiously, two other Steelers games 35 years ago helped create the NFL’s current policy of allowing all sold-out games to be televised in their local markets.
There was so much fan discontent after the Raiders-Steelers “Immaculate Reception” game and the unbeaten Dolphins vs. Steelers AFC championship game in 1972 were not televised in Pittsburgh that Pennsylvania lawmakers were among the leaders of a successful fight that forced the NFL to overhaul its TV policy.
Those 1972 blackouts led to the unusual scene of thousands of Steelers fans leaving the city on game day to drive to nearby cities such as Steubenville, Ohio, and Wheeling, W.Va., where hotels picked up the game telecasts from a Cleveland station.
Since 1973, NFL games are televised in their local market if they are sold out 72 hours prior to kickoff. All Steelers games since then have been sold out and have been shown locally, as have all away games. The Super Bowl also has been shown nationwide after the first five games were blacked out in their host cities.
Although the 1973 Congressional legislation requiring the blackouts to be lifted for sold-out games has long since expired, the NFL has not altered its policy since.