Cable Plates MLB on PPV

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New York— Continuing its push for sports parity with DirecTV Inc., In Demand last week reached a deal to distribute Major League Baseball's "MLB Extra Innings" out-of-market package through the 2003 season.

Sources also said that MLB has extended its out-of-market deal with DirecTV through 2003. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

The deal gives cable operators access to out-of-market packages from three of the four major sports leagues. In Demand also distributes the National Basketball Association's "NBA League Pass" and the National Hockey League's "NHL Center Ice."

But the National Football League's popular "NFL Sunday Ticket" has been exclusive to DirecTV and its 10 million direct-broadcast satellite subscribers since 1994.

About 5.5 million digital cable subscribers will be able to order more than 35 out-of-market games per week starting this summer, said representatives from both parties. The PPV network will offer a free preview of MLB Extra Innings from July 1 through July 8. A half-season package will then be available after the league's July 10 All Star game for a suggested retail price of $109.

NFL Sunday Ticket, may prove more elusive for the industry.

NFL manager of corporate communications Brian McCarthy said the league's eight-year TV deal with broadcasters ABC, CBS and Fox and cable network ESPN prohibits distribution of the out-of-market package to digital cable — mainly due to the networks' fears that the package would cannibalize viewers.

While the current TV contract expires in 2005, the league has an option to change the deal after 2002 season, at which time it could allow cable distribution of NFL Sunday Ticket. McCarthy said it's too early to speculate whether the league will exercise that option. DirecTV retains the exclusive DBS rights through 2002.

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