- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 11, 2001

The NFL has reached a $350 million deal with AOL Time Warner Inc., SportsLine.com Inc. and Viacom Inc. for its Internet rights, by far the largest ever such deal for any sports league.

The agreement, which involves hosting, production and promotion of the league's official site, NFL.com, is a five-year pact that pays the NFL $110 million in cash and provides an estimated $240 million worth of services and promotion, said sources close to the deal.

A formal announcement is expected today, but a note on NFL.com already says it is "Powered by SportsLine.com."

The NFL recently concluded a three-year Internet deal with ESPN worth $10 million. As a result, this new deal represents the first time any league has sold its Internet rights for major dollars like it would its television rights.

Many Internet companies, including SportsLine.com, are having fiscal troubles, and most corporate entities have to pay to get any kind of Web site hosting or promotion. But the NFL, which has bulked up its Web site to include audio of live games, fantasy games, archival films and memorabilia auctions, stands as one of the most popular draws in all of American entertainment. Last season, NFL.com became the second most-trafficked sports Web site behind ESPN.com.

As a result, the NFL fielded numerous bids from companies, including ESPN, willing to pay for an on-line presence with the league. The deal also gives AOL Time Warner, SportsLine.com and Viacom the right to use NFL logos and content for their own purposes and shares of retail sales from NFL.com.

"The avenues to promote NFL.com become very, very powerful now," said a league source who spoke on the condition of anonymity. "This deal includes AOL, obviously the largest Internet service provider out there, and many of Viacom's networks, such as CBS, MTV and VH1. The reach on this is very extensive."

The deal does not affect any of the individual team Web sites, including www.redskins.com. League owners in May extended an existing agreement allowing teams to produce and manage their own sites through 2005.

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