It’s half time and the Pittsburgh Steelers are up 10 to 7 in an exciting division game against the Cincinnati Bengals. Andrew Will, a die-hard Steelers fan, and his wife, Leann, are sitting in the Firehouse Bar & Grill on the Upper West Side.

Andrew Will, though, isn’t all smiles: He’s annoyed they can’t watch the game at home.

“I just don’t understand,” he said. “We get completely irrelevant college games, right? I can see Illinois play some other school.”

The couple was watching a Thursday night professional football game, which can only be seen on the NFL Network. At the time of the Nov. 20 contest, the channel was only available on the satellite cable company DirectTV — a service New York apartment building dwellers usually can’t get.

Limited Availability

In 2004, DirectTV made a $3.5 billion deal with the NFL to exclusively offer NFL Sunday Ticket, a pay service that allows fans to watch any game. DirectTV also became the only outlet to offer the NFL Network as part of its basic service.

The NFL Network recently became available to Verizon FIOS cable subscribers. But Verizon FIOS is still unavailable to many New Yorkers – including those in the 10024 zip code, where many of the fans gathered at the Firehouse live.

“I think it’s a free football game, it should be on [all] TV,” said Andrea Winn, who wore a Troy Polamalu jersey as she watched the game with her husband at the Firehouse, where business was good for a Thursday night.

“You can tell from the cheering people are here to watch the game,” said Tim Egan, the Firehouse’s manager.

Still, Egan believes fans should have the option to watch at home. “It’s like whatever to fan friendliness,” he said. “I think it should be on [local] cable.”

Financial Games

The problem, experts say, is the old game of money.

“It’s just all a fight over cost,” said Derek Baine, a consultant who follows cable and entertainment trends for the firm SNL Kagan. He said that since the NFL Network’s inception in 2003, the cost for cable operators to air the games the network carries has gone from $16 million to $500 million.

In a letter to Pennsylvania Senator Arlen Specter, who complained that fans are being shut out, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell blamed cable operators.

“We would most respectfully disagree with any suggestion that the National Football League has in some way limited the output of professional football programming,” Goodell wrote. “Our goal is to distribute NFL Network games to a broad national audience.  However, that goal has been undercut by several of the largest cable operators that are discriminating against our Network.”

Crying in Their Beer

Baine said his firm is projecting about a nationwide 10 percent drop in the number of homes where the NFL Network is being carried. He added that the NFL Network is now in talks with ESPN to air the games on next year on ESPN Classic, which is available on most basic cable services.

In the meantime, New York City-based football fans who don’t root for the Jets or Giants will have to keeping trading their recliners for bar stools.

“He didn’t cry at our wedding,” said Leann Will of her husband. “But he cried when the Steelers won the Super Bowl.”