In a post over the summer, I predicted that Aereo would not make it as a viable business, because what it’s doing will one-day be deemed illegal or it will be competitively squeezed out of existence. But today, I take it all back. After the most recent transaction involving Aereo, there’s one thing and one thing only that is going to end Aereo as a business model: sports television.
Last week, the NFL and Major League Baseball filed a brief to the Supreme Court staying that if Aereo prevails it would mean the end of free sports in America. Essentially, the sports leagues were arguing that either broadcasters would move to cable, or sports leagues would take all of their programming to the likes of ESPN and Turner Sports if Aereo continued to target the cable programming revenue ATM.
And when the NFL is after you, it’s time to rethink what your life decisions. This is a very gigantic and public move by a league that isn’t fond of making a lot of noise–especially in the government arena. However, if the NFL is sticking its neck out there to fight Aereo, it means they see it as a serious threat to their business model, and they are going to make sure Aereo goes away.
The NFL has relationships in D.C. that go back decades. The strongest relationship stemming from the fact that the NFL gets anti-trust protection and is allowed to control the production and distribution of its product (and similar products) with far fewer caveats than your average American corporation. Beyond that legal relationship, the NFL has plenty of relationships with Congressmen. These representatives are beholden to constituencies that consist of many NFL fans, and there’s no doubt that the reps take every step they can to make sure the NFL is as accessible to their home states as possible. Thus, the NFL and Congress have a mutually-beneficial relationship, which makes the entrance into the Aereo legal battle very interesting–and very scary for Aereo.
Still, the Supreme Court is not Congress, and they are not in anyway going to succumb to the political power of the NFL. In fact, the NFL’s entrance into this fight might bring up some legal issues the NFL does not want to face. Perhaps the Supreme Court will begin to look into whether the NFL’s anti-trust exception is necessary in the 21st century. Maybe the Supreme Court does not think sports should be the only thing preventing a la carte television in America. And perhaps the Supreme Court will decide to look into why a big corporation with a health issue problem has the time to be fighting someone else’s battles.
Those issues are ones that individuals in the NFL and government think about every day, and it’s the NFL’s desire to rid of such thoughts that cause the NFL to keep its mouth shut when matters like those involving Aereo arise.
So while the NFL’s involvement in the Aereo case could be the last nail in the coffin for Aereo and its fight to be a legal and profitable business, this might also mean that the NFL is setting itself up to draw unnecessary and unfavorable attention to some of the legal lines its been straddling for decades.