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Who Else Will Enter The NFL RedZone?

Dish Network has joined Comcast in the NFL RedZone.

Although some might view it as an upset considering the parties’ past legal wrangling, the No. 2 satellite provider’s decision to add NFL Network’s new scoring channel was inevitable as a punt crashing into the giant scorecard hovering above the playing field at Jerry Jones’s palatial Cowboys Stadium.

After all, Dish has long played second fiddle when it comes to rival DirecTV’s sports programming prowess, particularly with the latter’s Sunday Ticket exclusivity.

Now, Dish will give its subscribers a chance to check out all the pro pigskin scoring chances on Sundays, as the new service — kicking off Sept. 13 with the first weekend of the 2009-10 season — takes viewers around the league when teams move inside the 20-yard-line.

The addition of NFL RedZone to its $5.99 monthly sports tier should provide for another play or three to the provider’s current ‘Why Pay More For TV’ campaign, even if it’s a variation on its competitor’s Red Zone Channel and certainly not a true substitute for the pricey Ticket.

Still, who would have bet the over last spring that Dish and Comcast would be the first carriers to put NFL RedZone into play? Both distributors were then knocking helmets in different legal venues with NFL Network.

But after NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and Comcast CEO Brian Roberts both became personally involved in the negotiations, the nation’s top distributor, which had migrated NFL Network to a sports tier, reversed field and moved the service and its eight primetime games to its Digital Classic package. The move on Aug. 1 to the operator’s second most widely penetrated tier added some 9 million subs for NFL Network. During the May conference call announcing the deal, Roberts said the nation’s leading distributor would position NFL RedZone on its Sports Entertainment Package, a play call that became official on Aug. 24.

A month before, Dish and NFL Network reached an out-of-court settlement under which Dish is continuing to carry NFL Network on its Classic Silver 200 programming package over a multiyear term. Dish had pulled NFL Network from the “free preview” on its America’s Top 100 package, moving it to its AT200 tier on Feb. 20, 2008, in response to the channel’s decision to simulcast a Dec. 28, 2007 game on CBS and NBC that featured the then-undefeated New England Patriots against the New York Giants. That play cost NFL Network about 4 million subs.

While it certainly is good news for NFL Network that these top players are in its RedZone huddle, the question at this writing remains: Who’s next?

Distributors like Time Warner Cable, Cablevision, Charter and Suddenlink, which have kept NFL Network on the sidelines over pricing and positioning issues, were expected to get in the game following Comcast’s announcement last spring.

That hasn’t happened yet. And now the real deadline isn’t Nov 12, when NFL Network airs its first primetime game, the Chicago Bears-San Francisco 49ers.

It’s less than three weeks away from the kickoff of NFL RedZone.