Big plays bode well for league

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The NFL on Tuesday extended its broadcast rights deals with Fox and CBS and positioned itself for broadening the reach of the NFL Network by ending its long-brewing legal tussle with Comcast.

The league agreed to a two-year extension of its network TV arrangement with Fox and CBS through the 2013 season, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said during a conference call. Earlier, he announced the deal with Comcast, which will resume carriage of the NFL Network.

The largest U.S. cable operator agreed to provide the NFL Network to more households, which the NFL has long been looking for, in return for lower carriage fees and access to more content. It will boost the NFL Network's reach in Comcast markets from 2 million-plus homes to more than 10 million.

The end of the three-year showdown could open the way for similar deals with other big distributors that have been stuck in disputes with the NFL over terms of carriage of the NFL Network, most notably Time Warner Cable.

Goodell said the NFL is not in talks with TWC but hopes to open a dialogue again soon. A TWC spokesman declined comment.

Under the new deals, CBS will broadcast the 2013 Super Bowl, with Fox carrying the title game the following year. (CBS has the contest in 2010, Fox in 2011 and NBC, which has the Sunday night package of regular-season games, in 2012.) The NFL is believed to get annual broadcast rights fees of nearly $4 billion.

Sources said the extension will see carriage fees that the networks pay to the NFL rise only in the low-single-digit percentage range. CBS Sports president Sean McManus and Fox Sports chairman David Hill lauded the extension as a win-win.

"NFL football is the single most important sports property in the world," McManus said. "And the additional Super Bowl is a good thing for us."

Said Hill: "The NFL on Fox has been the centerpiece of the network's big-event sports strategy for 15 years, and (Fox's) NFC package is clearly the most-watched and highest-rated the NFL has to offer."

In March, the NFL extended its agreement with DirecTV, keeping the league's Sunday Ticket package on the satellite provider through 2014. DirecTV will pay $1 billion a year starting in 2011, a 43% increase from its previous deal with the league.

The agreement with Comcast covers the NFL Network plus VOD content for Comcast's Digital Classic subscribers and the ability to offer a Red iZone Channel, which was an exclusive component of the Sunday Ticket service. It provides live reports from games as soon as a team advances inside its opponent's 20-yard line.

Reports said the NFL dropped its standard subscriber fee of about 70 cents a month to the 40 cents-50 cents range under terms of the Comcast deal.

Comcast will reposition the NFL Network from its Sports Entertainment Package, where consumers had to pay an additional $8 a month, to the Digital Classic level of service by Aug. 1, without added costs for consumers.

"Working together, we have struck the right balance between value and distribution on a variety of viewing platforms," Comcast chairman and CEO Brian Roberts said.

The sides will drop legal actions in New York state court and at the FCC. Their previous agreement expired May 1, but the NFL Network remained available as talks progressed. (partialdiff)
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