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Archive for Thursday, December 27, 2007

League loosens hold on Patriots’ finale

NFL allows CBS, NBC to broadcast potentially historic game

December 27, 2007

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Fans won't need NFL Network after all to see the New England Patriots try to become the first NFL team to finish with a 16-0 regular-season record.

In an unprecedented move, the league announced Wednesday that CBS and NBC will simulcast NFL Network's telecast of the game Saturday between the Patriots and New York Giants, which begins at 7:15 p.m. It will be the first time an NFL game has appeared on three networks.

The game originally was scheduled to be carried only on NFL Network, which is seen in about 40 percent of the nation's homes. This move makes the telecast available to virtually everyone who has a TV, and a league source said CBS and NBC were chosen over Fox because, if the game had been played on Sunday afternoon, it would have aired on CBS, and if it had been played Sunday night it would have been on NBC.

"We have taken this extraordinary step because it is in the best interest of our fans," NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said in a statement.

But is that the primary motive?

The announcement comes on the heels of congressional pressure on the league to try to resolve its dispute with cable operators, even with the threat of looking into the NFL's antitrust exemption being brought by two senators.

"I think it was a smart move on their part," one of those legislators, Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., told the Associated Press.

And that decision could be seen as the league breaking in its dispute with most of the nation's major cable operators, which aren't carrying NFL Network. The sticking point: The NFL wants its network to be in the expanded basic package, with channels such as ESPN, Fox Sports Net, CNN and CNBC.

Cable operators consider it a niche network and want to plop it on a sports tier for which viewers pay extra.

So it could be viewed as either the league being concerned about the congressional saber rattling, or blinking first in the cable dispute - because this is the gem of the entire Thursday-Saturday package of games it kept for itself to try to boost NFL Network subscription rolls while passing up millions if not billions of dollars from established networks.

But Goodell said the league merely is trying to make the game available "to the broad audience that deserves to see this potentially historic game."

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