NFL Network added to sports tier

Court rules in Comcast's favor

Comcast won a legal skirmish Thursday when the New York Supreme Court ruled that the cable operator could pitchfork the NFL Network onto a digital sports tier.

But the NFL Network plans to appeal the decision, saying in a statement, “The final word on this issue is most likely going to come from the appellate courts.”

The NFL net had taken Comcast to court to prevent such tiering because most digital-cable customers have refused to pony up the extra fees that a sports tier imposes on subscribers, which usually run to about $5 a month.

“We are pleased with the court’s decision in favor of Comcast,” said David L. Cohen, exec VP at the cabler. “We bargained explicitly for the right to place the NFL Network on a sports tier” so that “our customers who are NFL fans will be able to watch the NFL Network without burdening those who are not NFL fans with extra costs.”

Justice Bernard Fried said Comcast was not required to make the NFL net available to 7 million subscribers (out of a total of 21.3 million) at no additional fees for one big reason: Comcast’s wholly owned cable network Versus failed to reach an agreement with the NFL to carry eight live regular-season NFL games.

Versus (formerly Outdoor Life) is a struggling sports net that was desperate to gain instant credibility by landing the gold standard of professional sports, live NFL games.

If Comcast had landed the highly desirable NFL games for Versus, its contract would’ve kept the NFL Network on the platform that reached 7 million customers. But when the NFL decided to sell those games to the NFL Network instead of Versus, a clause in Comcast’s agreement with the league allowed it to shift the net to a sports tier, which is purchased by only a small fraction of Comcast’s digital subscribers.

Comcast plans to notify those customers next week that the NFL Network will be banished to a sports tier by July; those who want to keep receiving the channel will have to pay an extra $5 a month.

The court’s ruling may also shore up the decision by Time Warner Cable and Cablevision to continue to reject carrying NFL Network on the widely circulated analog or digital-basic service, holding out until the net agrees to permit carriage on a sports tier.

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