NFL May Increase Slate of Live Games on TV Network as Soon as Next Season

The National Football League’s television network may increase its slate of eight live games as soon as next season, according to Brian Rolapp, chief operating officer for NFL media.

Rolapp said the number of additional games hasn’t yet been decided by the U.S.’s most popular television sport, which last week extended by a record nine years its broadcast rights agreements with CBS Corp., News Corp.’s Fox and Comcast Corp.’s NBC.

“Doing these contracts essentially opened up a way to create more games for the NFL Network, and I think it’s very likely you’ll see those next year,” Rolapp said yesterday in a telephone interview. “How many games is still in question, but I think we’re committed to putting more games on the network and improving the service.”

The NFL Network opened the season with its widest distribution since it started airing live games in 2006. It has attracted a record average of 6.4 million viewers to its first seven games this season, an increase of 19 percent over last year, going into this week’s finale between the Houston Texans and Indianapolis Colts, according to the NFL.

The network offers some of television’s most valuable content, as measured by the fees cable or satellite companies pay for distribution rights, according to a 2011 report by Anthony DiClemente, an analyst with Barclays Capital Inc. The network gets about 73 cents a subscriber, making it the fourth- most expensive in the U.S., ahead of Fox News’s 70 cents and behind the Disney Channel’s 91 cents. ESPN gets the most, with $4.40, and TNT the second-most at $1.03, DiClemente wrote, citing data from Barclays and SNL Kagan.

Half of Homes

After years of feuding with multichannel operators over pricing, the network is now in about 60 million homes, about half of U.S. homes with televisions, according to Nielsen Holdings NV, and is carried by seven of the eight largest television providers. The league and Time Warner Cable Inc., the second-largest U.S. cable provider, still haven’t reached a deal, according to NFL spokesman Dan Masonson.

Before the first Thursday night game telecast in November, between the Oakland Raiders and San Diego Chargers, the NFL Network had sold about 90 percent of its advertising space, at rates “comparable” to those charged by the league’s broadcast partners, according to David Pattillo, the NFL’s vice president for media sales.

The NFL last week renewed contracts with CBS, NBC and Fox in a deal that will generate about 60 percent more revenue, with rights fees for the three networks increasing about 6 percent or 7 percent a year, three people with knowledge of the talks said when the deals were reached. They were granted anonymity because they weren’t authorized to disclose the terms.

Monday Night Football

ESPN said Sept. 8 it extended its agreement with the NFL for eight years, giving the Disney unit “Monday Night Football” through the 2021 season. The deal was valued at $1.9 billion a year, or about 73 percent more than the Bristol, Connecticut-based network has been paying, the New York Times reported.

Additional NFL Network games will come from the Sunday schedule, after the league was able to give broadcasters additional digital rights and other perks to help increase the value of their packages, Rolapp said. NFL Network games air on local television in the teams’ home markets.

“It’s something we probably could have done earlier but it was very important for us to make sure that the quality of all of our packages improved,” Rolapp said. “Consumption continues to rise and all of our partners continue to have better returns economically and the fans are enjoying more and more football than ever before. At the end of the day, that’s what we strive for.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Aaron Kuriloff in New York at akuriloff@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Michael Sillup at msillup@bloomberg.net.

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