NFL Net feels the pressure, calls a double reverse

NBC, CBS also will air Pats game

After being almost nowhere, Saturday's Patriots-Giants game suddenly will be everywhere.

The NFL Network has hammered out a deal with NBC and CBS for those networks to broadcast the teams' season finale, in which New England will try to become the second team in NFL history to finish with a perfect regular-season record.

If the Pats win Saturday, they will be the first to wind up 16-0. The 1972 Miami Dolphins finished the then-14-game regular season undefeated.

The full NFL Network telecast will be shown on both networks, which will pick up the production work, halftime show and booth calls of NFL Network broadcasters Cris Collinsworth and Bryant Gumbel.

Sources said the game also will be shown mainly with NFL Network commercials, providing a massive boost to the network's advertisers by increasing by tens of millions the number of households that will see the ads. It's possible that some local spots could be sold by network affiliates.

It was unclear at press time whether CBS and NBC would be allowed to swap in their own in-game sponsorships or air their own pregame and postgame shows. No money is believed to have changed hands in the deal.

The unprecedented pact essentially will have two broadcast networks showing the same programming in primetime. In several markets -- including New York, Boston and Manchester, N.H. -- the game will be seen on as many as four networks since it will be telecast on a local station, as previously planned, as well as on the NFL Network.

While the situation of having a game on so many networks is unusual, the NFL was believed to be in a position where they couldn't really play favorites.

Because the matchup at East Rutherford, N.J., is an away game for the AFC, it would have gone on CBS if it had been broadcast on a Sunday afternoon. NBC, for its part, would have had broadcast rights if the matchup had been a Sunday primetime game. So the NFL opted to make the Saturday primetime game available to both.

Sources said Fox, which also airs NFL games, had not been offered the contest. A Fox rep declined comment.



Cable operators have been ratcheting up the rhetoric against the NFL Network, and some fans could have blamed the network for not making the game available. But the move could have been a response to pressure from the federal government. Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., had called on the NFL Network to make a deal with over-the-air television, and other parties are thought to have exerted pressure behind the scenes.

Still, the deal is a boon for carriers; the NFL has been battling with such operators as Time Warner Cable and Charter, and the decision eliminates the possibility of customers putting pressure on operators.

"In light of the interest in this particular game, we are pleased that the NFL has made this decision," TWC spokeswoman Patricia Rockenwagner said.

A Charter representative declined comment.

At the same time, by making available one of the premier broadcasts to all over-the-air viewers, it threatens to strain lucrative deals that the NFL Network has signed with such carriers as Cox, DirecTV and Dish Network. DirecTV declined comment, while reps for Dish and Cox did not return messages seeking comment at press time.

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said that "we have taken this extraordinary step because it is in the best interest of our fans" and an NFL Network spokesman called it "a one-time decision." The move sets the stage for the next phase of the carriage battle next season between TWC and other carriers who have declined to carry the network.

Still, the NFL Network couldn't resist firing a shot, with president Steve Bornstein saying Wednesday that "the only channel devoted 24/7 to America's favorite sport is not programming that should be relegated to a poorly promoted, pay-extra sports tier that takes advantage of our fans' passion for the NFL."

Steven Zeitchik reported from New York; Kimberly Nordyke reported from Los Angeles.
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