- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 9, 2004

NEW YORK — The NFL agreed yesterday to $8billion in contract extensions with Fox and CBS to televise Sunday afternoon games for six more years, deals that also would allow the league to show better matchups late in the season in prime time.

The current eight-year contract, which expires after the 2005 season, was worth $17.6billion, including the Sunday night (on ESPN) and Monday night (on ABC) packages. The extensions will run through 2011 and represent a 25 percent increase in rights fees.

The league still is in talks for the prime-time packages. The exclusive negotiating period for ABC/ESPN extends nearly another year.

The deals give the NFL the option to move seven late-season games from Sunday to Monday night to feature more attractive matchups, according to an official within the league who spoke to the Associated Press on condition of anonymity.

The NFL also can develop late-season prime-time satellite or cable packages of eight games, which would be televised Thursdays and Saturdays. Or the league could take those eight games and show them regionally in prime-time telecasts Sundays and Mondays.

“We got some protections,” Fox Sports chairman David Hill said. “The last several weeks of the season, the NFL has the right to pull a game for ‘Monday Night Football,’ and we’re still in conversation on [details].”

DirecTV also extended its deal with the league through 2010 for the Sunday Ticket package. The satellite distributor will pay $3.5billion for the five-year extension.

Fox will pay $4.3billion, or $712.5million a year for the NFC games, the source said, while CBS will pay $3.7billion, or $622.5million a year. In the current deal, Fox is paying $550million a year and CBS is paying $500million.

“We’re extremely excited to have a new six-year deal with NFL,” CBS co-president Leslie Moonves said. “This happened ahead of when we thought it would happen, but we are thrilled with the deal we made.

“We made money on the last deal and will make even more on this deal.”

CBS continues to televise AFC games, a package it acquired in 1998. CBS handled NFL games from 1956 through the 1970 merger, then took over the NFC until 1993, when Fox outbid CBS for that package. CBS then outbid NBC for the AFC games.

Commissioner Paul Tagliabue said there will be no changes in the traditional Sunday afternoon kickoff times for regular-season games.

Each network gets two Super Bowls during the contract period. CBS will do the game Feb.4, 2007, and Fox will handle the game a year later. The other Super Bowls for the networks will be assigned later.

The agreements also include a commitment by CBS and Fox to phase in high-definition coverage for all games and introduce new interactive elements to NFL game telecasts.

DirecTV televises via satellite every Sunday afternoon regular-season game to markets that otherwise would be blacked out of those games.

“Our DirecTV partnership complements and supports our broadcast television packages,” Tagliabue said. “This new agreement expands our joint commitment to the ongoing development of innovative ways for fans to enjoy the NFL.”

In addition to some interactive services, DirecTV will institute a separate “Red Zone” channel devoted to taking viewers from game to game when a team is inside an opponent’s 20-yard line and poised to score.

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