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NFL expands broadband playbook

One of the simpler concepts in football is that, if a play works, do it again-but do it better. The National Football League is taking this concept to the broadband world by once again offering subscribers in selected cities outside the U.S. a chance to watch NFL contests via broadband connection.

Last year, the league began its broadband experiment in Amsterdam and Singapore and, this year, hopes to add four other cities.

The NFL's continued interest in broadband delivery shouldn't come as a surprise, especially since most research firms forecast the broadband-subscriber base to grow to about 30 million by 2003 (according to a report from eMarketer).

"We think technology is exploding at such a rate that there's no question the Internet is going to play a key role in the NFL's future," says Tola Murphy-Baran, NFL senior vice president of market development. "Whether it will play as big a role as television remains to be seen."

The games that will be distributed will be the four available over the NFL's international feed. ISPs authorized to offer the service will receive it via satellite.

"This is a much more elaborate scheme than last year," says Murphy-Baran. Two companies, Fantastic Entertainment and Global Media, have signed on to handle technical issues. Fantastic is providing the enabling technology that will secure and deliver the content over the ISP to the PC, and Global Media will provide the front-end that will allow users to watch two games simultaneously as well as receive rules and game information.

"Global Media and Fantastic Entertainment make this a turnkey offering for ISPs," she says. "The content will be the network backhaul feeds, straight from the stadiums without commercials."

According to Murphy-Baran, there are no plans to offer a broadband-delivered service in the U.S. For one reason, the league does not want to step on the toes of those who currently hold broadcast rights. For another, the technology still needs to gain hold. "We want to learn as much as we can," she explains, "and position ourselves for the future in the event we want to do this in the U.S."