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New TV Deals Earn NFL Extra Points

The NFL, whose deals are always the biggest in TV sports, announced two new deals Tuesday. CBS and Fox will get two-year extensions - taking them through the 2013 season - that raise two questions:

-- After big jumps in NFL TV money, have we glimpsed a ceiling? CBS, for its AFC package, and Fox, for its NFC games, each will pay just 2 percent rights-fee increases for their extensions.

That's something different, given how major TV rights fees routinely jump. For their current deals, which would have expired after the 2011 season, CBS paid a "24 percent" increase over its previous deal; Fox paid a "29 percent" hike.

Fox Sports Chairman David Hill said, given the economic downturn, the new deals give "everyone a chance to draw a breath."

Fox and CBS weren't scheduled to begin negotiating new NFL deals until next year. But getting the two extra years settled now, Hill says, gives Fox some time to look past today's chaotic media business and try to take "a much better view of where the network TV business is going. ... It's a very smart move by the NFL. We didn't take very long to make up our minds about it. Nor did (CBS)."

CBS Sports President Sean McManus said the extension was hardly a tough call: "The NFL is the most important sports property there is, and to be able to do an economic deal that makes sense for the NFL and CBS was very logical. I don't think any of us anticipate CBS without the NFL."

-- Does Versus get a seat at the big table? The NFL rights fees kept climbing because the league always seemed to find an outsider - such as Fox, when it was a fledgling network - willing to raise the stakes for everybody trying to win NFL TV rights.

Tuesday, the NFL and cable operator Comcast announced they'd ended their public tiff over whether the league-owned NFL Network would air on basic cable in Comcast households. Comcast's Versus channel, struggling to be seen as big-time, has bid for NFL TV rights before - for games that instead ended up on the NFL Network.

Now with CBS, Fox and ESPN having locked up NFL TV rights through 2013 - ESPN already had that in its existing deal - that leaves NBC with the short straw. Its deal ends after the 2011 season. For Versus, that might be an opening.

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