OLN Close to Icing NHL Deal

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Outdoor Life Network is a slap-shot away from scoring a major National Hockey League rights agreement, according to sources close to the situation.

The Comcast Corp.-owned network is prepared to pay $100 million over two years for the rights to regular-season and playoff NHL games, sources close to network said. The NHL is resuming play this season after canceling the 2004-05 season due to a labor dispute.

The deal could be announced as early as this week, although league sources said that any deal would not be closed until next week at the earliest.

Beyond that, the league declined comment on the OLN agreement. OLN officials also declined to comment on the matter.

ESPN, the pro-hockey league’s longtime national carrier, earlier this year passed on a $60 million option to secure rights for the upcoming season. The total sports network said it still has a “matching right and remains interested in continuing our relationship with the NHL.” A spokeswoman declined to elaborate.

Should OLN finalize the NHL deal, speculation about Comcast taking a run at a late-season Thursday/Saturday night package of National Football League games would likely intensify. Many market watchers believe Comcast could use a puck-and-pigskin play to convert OLN into a national sports network.

However, Comcast Corp. and CEO Brian Roberts, during a conference call earlier this month to discuss the cable giant’s second-quarter results, noted that the goal is to improve OLN, and not to establish a national sports service that would take on ESPN head-to-head.

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