NFL to Use Its Network in Package

Times Staff Writer

The final piece of the NFL's television contract that takes effect next season appears to be in place, with a late-season, eight-game package ending up on NFL Network.

Steve Bornstein, president and chief executive of NFL Network, told The Times on Friday night that a decision is close to being made, but he declined further comment.

However, the Wall Street Journal is reporting today that a decision has already been made. The newspaper said the decision came Friday after talks ended with Comcast on a joint venture that would have placed the package on the company's OLN network or created a new sports network.

The Wall Street Journal cited "people familiar with the talks" as its source.

The Times learned that the eight games will be spread out over the final six or seven weeks of the season. This year, there will be five Thursday night games and three Saturday night games, probably with a 5 p.m. Pacific start in most cases. The Saturday games will be scheduled to avoid conflicts with college games.

This package, believed to be a six-year deal, means that late in the season there will be NFL games available on television as many as four nights a week -- Sunday, Monday, Thursday and Saturday.

It also marks the first time the league has not collected a rights fee for a package. It is estimated this package would have brought a rights fee of at least $400 million a year.

The decision to place this package on NFL Network came after months of debate about what to do with it. The benefit of placing it on the 2-year-old NFL Network is that it increases the value of the network, which is owned by the league.

NFL Network is in about 36 million basic and digital cable households. This deal could triple that number.

Earlier deals with ESPN, NBC, CBS, Fox and DirecTV will generate more than $3.7 billion a year for the league. The ESPN deal for "Monday Night Football" covers eight seasons, beginning this year. The others cover six seasons.

According to the Wall Street Journal, the NFL could eventually choose to sell this eight-game package in a more traditional manner somewhere down the road.

But it appears for now that NFL Network, with the ability to offer live games, will become a major player in the competitive sports television business.

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