Leg Up for NFL Network


The National Football League scored the biggest cable distribution deal for its nine-month-old NFL Network last week, securing a digital-basic carriage deal with Comcast Corp.

The fledgling cable service will reach the majority of Comcast’s 8 million digital-cable subscribers, giving it a total of about 22 million subscribers, according to network executives. Financial terms weren’t disclosed.


In addition to the 24/7 channel, Comcast customers in video-on-demand enabled markets will be able to select from a customized VOD offering that includes access to “NFL Network Highlights on Demand” — extended highlights of each NFL regular-season game — as well as fare from the NFL Films library.

NFL Network, which already had basic-carriage deals with DirecTV Inc., Charter Communications Inc. and Insight Communications Co., gains much-desired digital-cable distribution, instead of the limited sports-tier carriage mostly obtained by other startup sports networks such as NBA TV and CSTV: College Sports Television.

“We know Comcast will be a terrific partner because of their marketing prowess and strategic ingenuity,” said NFL Network senior vice president of distribution Adam Shaw in a statement. “Combining the strength of NFL Network’s content with Comcast’s cable and VOD, will be a growth driver for both of us.”

NFL Network began carrying 54 preseason contests last week, but it is not scheduled to offer regular-season contests due to restrictions in the league’s existing national broadcast and cable deals that expire in 2005.


ESPN, which holds the cable rights to Sunday-night regular season NFL telecasts, said last week it will not enter into renewal negotiations with the NFL until the 2004-05 season is over. The league had hoped to open negotiations as early as this month, sources said.

“We have had informal talks about a variety of scenarios, however we won’t have formal negotiations until the conclusion of the upcoming season,” an ESPN spokesperson said.