The Wall Street Journal is reporting that ESPN is in talks with the NFL Network to carry some NFL Network programming on its ESPN Classic channel. The NFL is at war with Comcast and other cable carriers over financial terms and placement of the network on the cable systems.
The NFL wants their network on basic cable, while Comcast and the other systems want to only make it available as part of a sports package that customers would have to pay to subscribe to, the same way they have to subscribe to networks like HBO. ESPN Classic is widely available on basic cable, so if they carry NFL Network programming that would give a boost to the network's visibility and might put more pressure on the cable systems to give into the NFL's demands.
This comes on the heels of the news that Comcast and the year-old Big Ten Network have finally come to terms after a similar dispute. Starting August 15, Comcast will make the BTN available on expanded basic cable in states with Big Ten universities. In other states, Comcast has the option to place the network on their Sports Entertainment tier or other service tiers. After the end of the 2008-09 college basketball season, Comcast can shift the network to digital cable in the states with Big Ten schools. In other states Comcast can opt to not carry the network or move it to any tier of service it wants.
You might think that if Comcast could work out a deal with the Big Ten, they could work out a deal with the NFL Network. However, I've read speculation that what the cable companies really want is the NFL Sunday Ticket, which is exclusively carried by DirecTV, so I wouldn't expect a deal any time soon. -- Joe Guckin