May 19, 2009 / 3:51 PM / in 8 years

Comcast and NFL reach carriage agreement

<p>Top prospects stand together on stage before the start of the 2009 NFL Draft at Radio City Music Hall in New York, April 25, 2009.Mike Segar</p>

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Comcast Corp said on Tuesday it has reached a new long-term agreement to carry National Football League games on its cable systems, after settling their outstanding legal disputes.

The two sides have clashed for several years over financial and strategic terms, but both said they will drop their pending legal actions before the U.S. Federal Communications Commission and a New York state court.

The new agreement consists of an array of video content, including the live Network, video on demand for Comcast's Digital Classic cable customers and the ability to offer the NFL's RedZone Channel when it is created.

The NFL also said on Tuesday that it signed two-year extensions on broadcast agreements with CBS and Fox. The networks' deals now run through the 2013-2014 season.

Financial terms were not disclosed for any of the deals.

Comcast will start repositioning the NFL Network from its sports package to the digital tier of service with a full launch by Aug 1, reaching more than 10 million Comcast digital customers, up from just 2 million on the Comcast sports tier.

"We always said we were interested in a broader distribution and that we didn't want to see an extra charge in a smaller distribution like the sports tier," NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said on a conference call.

"We believe were able to reach that compromise with Comcast."

The dispute with NFL stemmed from a 2006 decision by Comcast to drop the NFL Network from its the digital tier after they failed to agree on terms to carry eight regular-season games on Comcast's Versus network. The dispute caused bitter recriminations from both sides. The NFL at one point accused Comcast of discriminating against its network in favor of other cable programing.

Comcast Chief Executive Brian Roberts said on the call that their previous problems are now behind them.

"This is really the beginning for both of us to start over and have a new relationship," said Roberts.

"The two of us should find ways to use the innovation of television and broadband to work together."

The agreement with Comcast will likely open doors to negotiations between the NFL and other cable companies like Time Warner Cable Inc, Charter Communications and Cablevision Systems Corp.

Goodell said that while those conversations have not yet started he is hopeful to be able to resolve negotiations with the other cable companies.

"I will engage, just as I did with Brian, in trying to resolve whatever differences for the good of our fans," said Goodell. "Hopefully other CEOs will recognize this is high quality product, it's in demand by their consumers, and then we'll get that distribution."

In March, the NFL extended its exclusive Sunday Ticket package of games with satellite TV provider DIRECTV Group through the 2014 season in a deal estimated to be around $4 billion over four years. Analysts have said Sunday Ticket has been one of the key platforms in DirecTV's ability to win football fans from competing cable providers.

Comcast shares fell by 16 cents to close at $15.00 on Nasdaq.

Reporting by Yinka Adegoke; Additional reporting by Ben Klayman in New York; Editing by Derek Caney, Richard Chang

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