WASHINGTON – Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry, who represents New England Patriots' home turf in Boston, is threatening to hold a Senate hearing if the NFL refuses to allow national broadcasting of the Patriots-New York Giants game on Sunday night.
Kerry wrote NFL commissioner Roger Goodell on Monday to request the game be seen by the wider football-watching audience..
"I remain deeply troubled that today as many as 250,000 Massachusetts households, and millions of Patriots fans nationwide, may be denied access to this historic sporting event," Kerry wrote.
The Patriots are in the midst of a record-breaking season and stand unbeaten with one regular-season game remaining. The Giants are 10-5 and have clinched a wild card playoff spot in the NFC. The game is being held at the New York Giants' home stadium — the Meadowlands — in New Jersey.
For now, game coverage is scheduled to air on the NFL Network, the league's own cable channel, at 8 p.m. Sunday. Other television viewers in the home areas for the teams will also get to watch the game on local network affiliates.
The game will be broadcast on one Boston channel, one Manchester, N.H., channel and one New York channel. The New York Post reports that a Hartford, Conn., station is trying to air the game also.
The NFL has received criticism for choosing to put eight games this season on its own premium cable channel, which is available by subscription to roughly 40 percent of U.S. homes with televisions, and thereby blocking coverage by other networks. Opponents of the move said the NFL's decision has limited the distribution of some high-profile games.
The league has been feuding with several major cable companies over whether they should carry the channel as part of a basic package, and NFL officials have repeatedly said they will not agree to any distribution arrangement that only involves games and not year-round broadcast of the channel.
Taking a dig at the NFL, Kerry wrote: "For a game of this significance to be used as a bargaining chip or point of leverage between corporations locked in a dispute would say a great deal about the esteem in which America's football fans are held by the big interests."
The Democratic senator also raised the threat of hearings should the NFL not fall on his side.
"Under the unfortunate circumstance that this matter remains unresolved, leaving 60 percent of households across the country — including thousands in Massachusetts — without access to Saturday's game, I will ask the Senate Commerce Committee to hold hearings on how the emergence of premium sports channels are impacting the consumer, and I will consider what legislative measures may be necessary to ensure that consumers are more than bystanders in this process," Kerry wrote.
Just last week, the NFL drew fire from some of Kerry's colleagues.
Sens. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., and Arlen Specter, R-Pa., wrote to the NFL on Dec. 19 threatening to reconsider the league's antitrust exemption if it doesn't make the games it carries on its own channel more available. Leahy and Specter are the respective top Democrat and Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee.
The two were specifically concerned over the exclusive broadcast of the games involving New England — some of whose fans are in Leahy's state — and the Pittsburgh Steelers, who are in Specter's territory.
"Now that the NFL is adopting strategies to limit distribution of game programming to their own networks," they wrote, "Congress may need to reexamine the need and desirability of their continued exemption from the Nation's antitrust laws."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.