Cheers Sports Bar & Grill is usually known as the place where everybody sees the game.
But that wasn't the case on Dec. 29 game day.
Only a handful of people frequented the bar to see the match-up between the New England Patriots and the New York Giants that led the Patriots to a 16-0 regular season. The lack of business sparked a lawsuit.
Although the game was scheduled to be broadcast on the subscriber-only NFL Network, the NFL decided to simulcast it on NBC and CBS. This decision caused his bar to lose money on game day, claims Cheers general manager Christopher Biechele.
Biechele filed a lawsuit this week in Erie County Common Pleas Court against DirecTV, his bar's satellite provider, for charging him to show the Patriots-Giants game, while non-subscribers received the game for free on network stations. Biechele paid $151.99 in December for his DirecTV subscription, which gives him access to the NFL Network.
"I'm paying for something that not everyone else is paying for, and they decided to just give the game away," Biechele said. "It's a frustration."
DirecTV public relations staff did not return e-mail requests for an interview Thursday, nor could they be reached by telephone.
The NFL decided to simulcast the Patriots-Giants game on NBC and CBS after requests from Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass. and Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa. Almost 35 million people watched the game.
Sports-oriented bars such as Cheers subscribe to channels like the NFL Network because the games often help bring in business, Biechele said.
Half an hour before the start of November's Green Bay Packers-Dallas Cowboys game, which was broadcast on the NFL Network, there were about 50 people at Cheers, Biechele said. But half an hour before the Patriots-Giants game, there were only six people in the bar.
"I had brought in extra help, figuring the bar was going to be really busy," Biechele said. "I had also bought a (lot) of extra beer and booze."
Biechele says he filed the lawsuit not just for himself, but on behalf of other bar owners who lost business on Dec. 29. The lawsuit asks for individual compensatory damages, as well as a court order barring DirecTV from billing subscribers for products and services for which they did not agree.
"This business is hard enough as it is," he said. "How many bars are there in Ohio and across the United States that are sports oriented who pay for these channels? They took all that business away from us."
Biechele estimates that he spends between $12,000 and $15,000 a year on satellite subscriptions for various sporting events, from March Madness to Nascar racing. He says he is now stuck in a difficult situation.
"I'm in a catch-22; I can't cancel my subscription," Biechele said. "If you want to provide this stuff for customers who come in, you've got to pay."