Network keeps 'Sunday Night Football' to 2013

NBC has extended its “Sunday Night Football” contract with the National Football League through the 2013 season.

The extension is relatively short compared to the original six-year deal that NBC and the NFL inked starting with the 2006 season, but it matches the ending dates of the league’s current agreements with CBS, Fox, ESPN and DirecTV — setting the NFL up for a wide-open negotiation of new deals at that point.

Sources said the increase in the cost of the pact for NBC was on par with the nearly 4% increases that CBS and Fox met in May, when those nets also extended their NFL contracts through 2013.

In terms of content, nothing changes for NBC. The deal calls for 16 regular-season Sunday-night games, plus a Thursday “Opening Kickoff” broadcast, the league’s two wild-card playoff games and selected preseason games. The NFL provides flexible scheduling over the final seven weeks of the regular season to help create matchups of interest.

“Sunday Night Football” is NBC’s top-rated primetime show, and the Peacock’s February broadcast of Super Bowl XLIII drew 98.7 million viewers, making it the No. 2 broadcast of all time behind the “MASH” series finale. NBC next gets the Super Bowl in 2012.

NFL owners approved the NBC contract at this week’s league meetings, where among the issues still to be discussed is the impending expiration of the league’s collective bargaining agreement with players after the 2010 season. That means that games could be halted by a lockout as soon as 2011 in what would be the first labor stoppage in the NFL since 1987.

NBC’s 2006 contract with the NFL marked its return to broadcasting games of the league after a nearly nine-year absence. NBC was the first network to broadcast an NFL game, in 1939.

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