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League-Owned Networks Ready to Run Up the Score

As the broadcast networks replace their summer repeats with new series and returning favorites through the coming weeks, sports league-owned networks are readying for an eventful fall of their own.

In a little over two weeks, the NFL kicks off another football season, one that will see the NFL Network carry an additional five games. “It’s close to a regular-season package,” says Mark Quenzel, the network’s senior VP of production and programming.

“We do a lot of really good programming on this network, but nothing replaces live games,” adds Quenzel. “That’s the holy grail.”

Unlike in past years, when its game slate began in November, NFL Network will air its first game Sept. 13. The channel’s first two contests feature the popular Green Bay Packers-Chicago Bears rivalry and the Super Bowl champion New York Giants facing off against last year’s rookie sensation, Cam Newton, and his Carolina Panthers. “We’re coming out of the blocks with two really good games,” says Quenzel.

The increase in coverage is big and exciting for the network, though it doesn’t come without its challenges. Quenzel says adding five extra games will test NFL Network’s high-quality meter. “We set a certain standard for what we do around those games,” says Quenzel. “There’s a lot more work to do.”

One trade-off NFL Network had to make in this increase was giving up its primetime game on Thanksgiving Day to NBC; Quenzel says he was more than happy to make the switch. “It’s a completely fair trade,” he says, adding that putting such a popular game on broadcast TV is better for the league. (The third NFL game on Thanksgiving has never aired in broadcast; it always aired on NFL Network.)

While football is getting ready to begin anew, Major League Baseball is rounding third and heading home on its 2012 campaign. For the first time in its brief history, MLB Network is getting in on the postseason action.

The league’s new postseason format will feature two extra teams, and with extra teams comes extra games. TBS will give MLB Network two of its divisional round telecasts and instead carry the games of the newly added wildcard round.

“It’s a really huge step for us,” says MLB Network CEO Tony Petitti. “Up until now, we really haven’t had any significant exclusive content, in terms of live games.” While MLB Network has produced games on its own, they were blacked out in the teams’ home markets. “This is the first time we’ll have something that’s really exclusive,” says Petitti.

The network this year will also exclusively broadcast live the Most Valuable Player, Cy Young and other awards announcements by the Baseball Writers Association of America for the first time.

Of course, it’s just not professional sports if there’s not some labor strife in play. This time, the National Hockey League faces the possibility of a delayed or canceled season. At presstime, the league and its players were continuing negotiations on a new collective bargaining agreement; the current one expires Sept. 15. It is widely believed that the league will lock out its players if no agreement is reached.

Charles Coplin, NHL Network’s executive VP of content, can’t concern himself with that. “We’re planning [like it’s] business as usual,” he says.

Whether there are NHL games or not this fall, the network will still be there to service its fans. Coplin says one of the biggest goals will be better synergy between the league’s platforms.

“One of our biggest focuses is to be cross-platform,” Coplin says, adding that he wants a “common DNA” between the network, and its GameCenter app. Coplin also wants synergy across the league’s rights holders, saying he’s looking for ways his network can complement others.

On the hardwood, NBA TV hopes the massive popularity wave the league experienced this past season can continue. With the season set to begin on time this year, NBA TV on Oct. 31 will air the ! rst game of No. 1 draft pick (and Team USA gold medalist) Anthony Davis of the New Orleans Hornets.

Christina Miller, senior VP and GM of NBA Digital, is understandably thrilled to have a full season on tap for 2012-13, to keep the momentum moving down the court in the right direction. “Obviously,” Miller says, “having [those early games] is critical.”

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