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NFL Clips Comcast in Court

Washington -- The National Football League filed suit in New York State Court to block Comcast from distributing NFL Network exclusively on a sport tier reaching a small proportion of the MSO’s 24 million subscribers, the league’s top lawyer said Tuesday.

“Comcast has informed us that they want to put it on the sports tier beginning next year. We want to keep it where it is now. We think the contract we negotiated with Comcast does not give Comcast the right to move the NFL Network to the sports tier,” NFL general counsel Jeffrey Pash said in testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Comcast is planning a sports-tier launch of NFL Network for 1.7 million customers recently acquired from Adelphia Communications and Time Warner Cable. The vast majority of Comcast customers -- based on a deal with the NFL, reached in August 2004 -- can access NFL Network through a digital tier or a sports tier.

But the NFL went to court in October evidently after learning that Comcast intended only a sports-tier position for the channel on all of its systems.

“It’s a contract dispute involving whether Comcast has a right to tier the NFL Network starting next year,” Pash said. “We think the contract we signed with Comcast doesn’t permit that, and we’ve asked a judge to make a ruling.”

The case had been sealed, restricting Comcast’s ability to discuss legal issue with the media.

“Comcast believes it has the right to carry the NFL Network on a sports tier and will vigorously defend its position,” Comcast executive vice president David Cohen said in a prepared statement.

For the first time, NFL Network will carry eight NFL games this fall, starting Thanksgiving Day and scheduled to air Thursdays and Saturdays. Balking at the NFL’s license fee and channel-placement demands, Time Warner Cable and Cablevision Systems have refused to carry the channel.

At the hearing, Time Warner Cable chief operating officer Landel Hobbs said the channel belonged on a sports tier so that football fans shouldered the costs, not millions of cable customers with little to no interest in the game.

“The programming is too expensive. The value equation is out of whack,” Hobbs said.