NFL, MLB Ramping Up Network Plans


Two major professional-sports leagues Monday announced major developments for their respective cable networks.

The National Football League scored its biggest cable distribution deal for its nine month-old NFL Network cable service with a Comcast Corp. carriage agreement, while Major League Baseball owners are preparing to give the green light to the sport’s first-ever dedicated network, which is expected to launch in 2005.

Terms of the NFL Network-Comcast deal were not disclosed. With carriage on Comcast’s Digital Cable service, the fledgling network will reach the majority of the MSO’s 8 million digital-cable subscribers, giving it a total of about 22 million subscribers, according to network executives.

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.

For NFL Network -- which also has carriage deals with DirecTV Inc., Charter Communications Inc. and Insight Communications Co. Inc. -- the deal gives the service much desired digital-cable distribution instead of limited sports-tier carriage that other start-up sports networks like NBA TV and College Sports Television have received.

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

On the baseball front, MLB owners during meetings Thursday may approve plans for a new baseball network, which would launch in 2005. The network would not feature live games, but it would offer daily highlights and vintage baseball programming, according to a league spokesperson.

The as-yet-unnamed service would seek digital-cable distribution, and it is expected to offer enhanced services like VOD, sources close to baseball said.