Friday, June 20, 2008


Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk, who joins Michael David Smith (PFT/College Football Talk/FanHouse/Etc) and the Brothers Mottram as members of the "Internet Stars Who Must Never Sleep" Club, has a very interesting bombshell.

He got it from the Wall Street Journal, who reports that ESPN is in "high-level" talks on a deal with the NFL Network.
A deal would bring to a face-saving end an embarrassing episode for the NFL and a bitter stand-off between the lead and four of the nation's largest cable operators, a dispute which kept live pro football games on Thursday and Saturday nights out of many American homes.

An agreement would represent a big shift in strategy for the NFL—abandoning its effort to sidestep sports broadcasters like ESPN and take some of its valuable games directly to cable subscribers, who pay lucrative monthly fees.

...One possible scenario could be a combination of the NFL Network with the ESPN Classic network, which has relatively low ratings but wide distribution on expanded basic tiers. ESPN would likely use its market weight and its eight additional games to seek higher subscription fees than the 16 or 17 cents it currently receives for ESPN Classic, boosting rates to something closer to what the NFL network has been seeking, according to Derek Baine, a senior analyst for SNL Kagan. Under such a scenario, ESPN and the NFL could form a joint venture and share revenue, or ESPN could take an equity stake in the channel.
I only mention this because I think it's an interesting scenario. I like the NFL Network, but I really feel like they need to program more aggressively. I'm sure a big part of it is the lack of distribution deals, but those of us who get it deserve more original programming, more classic games, and fewer repeat loops of programming.

About the only things the network has going for them this offseason are the NFL Replay shows on Sundays, which are playing back the best games of every week of the season, and the NFL Classics on Monday nights, which are fun.

ESPN could certainly ruin many of the good things about the NFL Network, but the Worldwide Leader could also enhance much of the programming. NFL Network has a thin staff of reporters and analysts. ESPN's stable is practically endless.

The deal isn't done yet, but this one bears watching. The NFL Network needs to do something to claim some legitimacy, as they cut their own knees off by putting that Giants-Patriots classic on 43 channels last December.

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