Comcast: NFL Network Now, ‘Sunday Ticket’ Later?

College Park, Md. -- Comcast Corp.’s agreement with the National Football League to air pro-football reruns and live preseason games -- plus coverage spanning every minute of the year -- places the nation’s largest cable company “on a path” to be in the running for the highly sought and lucrative contract to provide live coverage of Sunday football, the league said Monday.

NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue said Comcast would be among the companies considered for the regular-season contract now held exclusively by DirecTV Inc. The direct-broadcast satellite provider’s deal expires at the end of next year.

Asked about the possibility of such an exclusive contract with Comcast, Tagliabue said, “We’re taking this a season at a time, but you couldn’t rule that out. If we did it, we’d want to do it with strong companies, and that includes companies such as Comcast … With the relationship we’ve developed here, it has positive ramifications for not just the Sunday Ticket, but we’re looking for other packages.”

Driving fanaticism that follows the sport, NFL Network executives want the first channel dedicated in its entirety to professional football to reach occasional fans, as well as avid fans.

Comcast’s 8 million digital-cable subscribers with video on-demand capabilities get eight- to 20-minute game summaries, team and player features, access to 84 years of history from the NFL Films library and ample interviews and analysis.

“If you wake up today and heard that the Atlanta game had a great finish, in 10 minutes, you can go check out that game,” Comcast chairman Brian Roberts said Monday at a press conference with Tagliabue at the University of Maryland’s Comcast Center here.

“It’s also looking forward,” Tagliabue said, “underscoring last week’s drama and building interest for next week.”

Roberts said it’s preliminary to discuss stepping up the cable company’s relationship with the NFL to include live Sunday games, but it’s a move that Comcast is “interested in evaluating.”

With VOD, NFL Network will be the place for fans to be their own analysts, fast-forwarding and rewinding through game-day highlights on their own time at their own pace. Viewers also get the league’s press conferences and programs that take them into locker rooms.

Comcast is promoting the launch this week with a multimillion-dollar marketing campaign, including TV ads with NFL Network anchor Rich Eisen, video-mail outreach with NFL Films president Steve Sabol, newspaper and magazine ads, direct mail, radio spots and cross-channel commitments.

With the exception of 54 preseason games, no original games will air on the network.

The cable company would not disclose the value of the NFL Network contract, nor how many years it would last, except to say at least two.

NFL Network, which reaches 44 million households, is not intended to ever broadcast live regular-season games. But the benefit for Comcast, NFL Network spokesman Seth Palansky said, is a deeper relationship with the NFL, strengthening the MSO’s case when it’s contract-renewal time in 2006.

“That’s our message: ‘Look, start a relationship with us now, test us out, work with us for a couple years, and that will put everyone in a better position” to negotiate, Palansky added.

States News Service