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Dolan, NFL draft accord

Duo inks new pact for draft

NEW YORK — Chuck Dolan and the National Football League are buddy-buddy again: Dolan’s Radio City Music Hall will — for the first time — open its doors for two days next month to welcome the 71st annual NFL Draft.

Last year at this time, Dolan and the league were at loggerheads. The NFL, irked at Dolan’s Cablevision for blocking a new stadium for the New York Jets in midtown Manhattan, punished him by pulling the 2005 draft from its usual venue, Madison Square Garden, and shifting it to the neutral Javits Convention Center.

But all is well again, and the buzz around town is that Cablevision is back in talks to carry the 24/7 NFL Network, which has dramatically enhanced its value to cable operators by signing up to carry regular-season NFL games for the first time in its 2½-year history. NFL net bought the rights to a package of eight post-Thanksgiving primetime games carved out by the league for scheduling on alternate Thursdays and Saturdays.

Also for the first time, ESPN will have to share its coverage of the draft with the NFL net. Event begins at noon E.T. on Saturday, April 29, and runs for eight hours. On Sunday April 30, the draft resumes for four more hours. The NFL Network carries it both days, joining ESPN on Saturday and ESPN2 on Sunday.

The league will promote the draft by hanging banners proclaiming “The Dream Starts Here” on 300 street poles throughout midtown Manhattan and on 80 bus shelters. Fans, many of them wearing green and white Jets paraphernalia, are expected to pack the 5,900-seat theater during the two days of the draft — admission is free.