Seeking to end an embarrassing dispute that kept live pro football games out of many homes, the National Football League’s NFL Network is in talks to form a partnership with Walt Disney Co.’s ESPN cable sports network, according to people familiar with the situation, the Wall Street Journal reports.
An agreement would represent a big shift in strategy for the NFL: abandoning its effort to force cable operators into carrying its own network and thus paying it lucrative monthly fees. It would also send a message to other professional sports, which have enjoyed rising television fees for years, that even the biggest and most powerful league in the U.S. cannot launch a new channel without the consent of giant cable operators such as Comcast Corp. and Time Warner Cable Inc.
For fans, a deal could close a bitter standoff between the league and four of the nation’s largest cable operators that has left live games on Thursday and Saturday nights unavailable to many cable subscribers.
NFL executives including Steven Bornstein, chief executive of the NFL Network and previously chairman of ESPN and president of Disney’s ABC unit, have been holding high-level discussions with Disney executives in recent months, according to several people familiar with the situation. Some team owners have been briefed on the discussions, and Disney CEO Robert Iger and NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell have been involved, these people said.
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