Meetings come to a close

The NFL owners wrapped up their annual meeting in quiet fashion, making the most news by deciding not to expand the playoffs. But before leaving Philly, NFL brass touched on a few topics that will impact the league and its fans in the future:

You've heard of MTV, well how about NFLTV? Commissioner Paul Tagliabue talked about his long-term plan for an NFL Network.

"In the preseason, at least, the NFL Channel would be a place where you can see all the preseason games on a non-conflicting basis," Tagliabue said. "In other words, if there were a Jets game in New York or a Bears game in Chicago, the affiliate would still have that game exclusively on a live basis; the NFL Network would have it on a delayed basis. But the fan would be able to see all of the preseason games on some basis on the NFL Network.

"At the moment we don't have any expectation that it will involve the live broadcasting of games. Will it involve the re-broadcasting of games after they've been televised on another network? I don't know."

The issue is likely to be re-addressed in next spring.

Once seemingly far-fetched, the idea now seems like a natural. Sports programming saturates cable television. The NFL's status as the country's most popular professional league means football and its own cable network may be a match made in prograaming heaven.

"That's obviously a very important question facing all of sports," Tagliabue said. "One thing we do know is we have, by far, the strongest sports-television programming. That's shown by the fact that we have three broadcasting networks carrying our games in addition to ESPN. "We have tremendous ratings. Our ratings keep improving relative to other programming as the television audience gets split over a larger and larger number of channels," he continued. "And we feel that we have a unique opportunity to continue to be a major presence on broadcast television with mega-audiences that only can be delivered through broadcast television. On the other side of the coin, ESPN game programming and shoulder programming has been well received. Most of the highest-rated cable programs are NFL Sunday night games. How we blend that in the future is something we're looking at."

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