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Reynolds Rap

The Hottest 'Ticket' In Sports

8/02/2010 6:56 AM

The 2010 FIFA World Cup is in the rearview mirror and now most Americans can concentrate on the football that they truly love: the National Football League version.

Yes, training camps opened in a summer swelter this past weekend; Brett Favre is playing signal-caller Hamlet in Hattiesburg, Miss., again; and NFL Network is still trying to add some key cable operators to its distribution roster.

Along with those rites of summer come new product offerings to entice pro football fans to pony up more pigskin dollars. After kicking off last season, NFL RedZone, the league’s premium scoring-update and highlights service, will go mobile via Verizon Communications during the 2010 campaign. For its part, NFL.com, complementing NFL Network’s HD telecasts of all 65 preseason games, is offering a streaming package of the same contests for $40.

Then, there’s the perennial fan favorite, out-of-market package “NFL Sunday Ticket,” which is facing competition from the aforementioned vehicles. Still, some 2 million fans love DirecTV’s exclusive package enough to shell out $300 or so per season to check out all of the league’s Sunday-afternoon games.

Cable operators are not so enamored. Over the years, depending on whom one speaks to, cable has or hasn’t been able to bid for Sunday Ticket. When Comcast couldn’t punch the Ticket, or the rights to an eight-game slate for Versus, then known as OLN, that wound up on NFL Network, litigation with the league ensued over positioning of its in-house network. Without the Ticket, CEO James Dolan has said Cablevision will never carry NFL Network. Now, the Ticket is evidently being brought up again in negotiations with Comcast and DirecTV over access to the cable company’s regional sports network in Philadelphia.

Those pleasantries aside, cable executives are about to get $100 million worth of advertising reminders about what they can’t proffer to their subscribers. DirecTV’s biggest push behind the pay service kicks off Aug. 7, featuring nine diff erent commercials about dedicated fans, displaced or otherwise. There is also a 40-page insert in the Sept. 6 issue of Sports Illustrated, the pub’s pro-football preview issue, and quiz material in the form of iAds on iPhones and iPads.

Sunday Ticket could gain more traction this year. Elements of its more expensive “SuperFan” package - including the original RedZone channel, HD access, Game Mix and Short Cuts (half-hour game cutdowns) - are now part of the $300 base package. Those who want mobile access to the Ticket have to spend an additional $50, unless you’re a rookie - then you can run the whole nine yards for the same $300.

For $350, DirecTV will also offer a broadband version of the Ticket nationally to apartment dwellers or those with poor exposure to the southern sky, after testing the service in Manhattan last season.

Cable’s counter is with NFL RedZone, which signed up Comcast, Dish Network, Verizon’s FiOS TV, AT&T’s U-verse TV, RCN Corp., Blue Ridge Communications, Service Electric, Buckeye Cablevision, Nex-Tech, Mid-Tel Cable and Dakota Central Telecom, among other affiliates, during its rookie year. An NFL spokesman said other deals have been tackled this off season and negotiations continue with carriers.

Of course, to get on the field with NFL RedZone, distributors have to pony up for NFL Network, something that Cablevision Systems, Time Warner Cable, Charter Communications (whose topper, Paul Allen, owns the Seattle Seahawks) and Suddenlink Communications have balked at doing, over pricing and positioning issues.

We’ll see if this round of huddling results in NFL Network adding any of those four holdouts to its lineup.

September