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NFL Tackles Cable

The NFL Network is going on the offensive against cable operators with an acid-tongued consumer-marketing push. It aims to parlay its new package of NFL regular-season games into improved carriage across the country.

The 33-month-old network, still without a slot on such systems as Time Warner, Cablevision and Charter, says it could spend as much as $100 million, depending on how long its current disputes with cablers carry on.

NFL owners, who passed up an estimated $400 million in rights fees to use the games to grow the network, are eager to get NFL Network in as many homes as possible. Currently in about 41 million homes, it hopes to boost that number by more than 50% this year and eventually top 90 million.

The NFL says talks are not progressing as the season nears—its 52-game package of preseason games kicks off Aug. 11—so it is executing an aggressive campaign to get rabid fans to demand their football fix. The campaign will span television, print and radio as well as NFL resources including in-stadium giant screens, and team assets such as Websites and coach shows. The ads will attempt to drive consumers to a telephone number that will route calls to the local cable carrier by area code.

“The full weight of the NFL marketing machine will be used,” says NFL Network spokesman Seth Palansky.

The consumer push will use taglines “Don’t let Time Warner ruin your football season” and “Don’t let Charter shut you out.”

Beginning this week, the NFL will blitz targeted markets like football-crazed Green Bay (a Time Warner market), Tampa Bay (Bright House) and St. Louis (Charter).

Another battleground is the New York market, where Time Warner has 4.5 million customers but only 18,000 subscribe to the digital sports tier, home to the NFL Network.

The NFL is also preparing for a battle when Time Warner takes over the Adelphia systems July 31. Time Warner is expected to drop it from basic cable in such markets as Cleveland and Buffalo.

The package of regular-season games that begins Nov. 23, as well as other recently acquired properties, including college post-season games, has spurred growth for the network. Recently, NFL negotiated upgraded packages on both Dish Network and Verizon’s FiOS television service, as well as a new carriage deal with AT&T’s U-Verse service.