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MSN scores hockey games

Microsoft's Internet service says it will begin live audio broadcasts of National Hockey League games as part of an exclusive content and marketing agreement.

Microsoft's MSN Internet service said it will begin live audio broadcasts of National Hockey League games Thursday as part of an exclusive content and marketing agreement.

Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

Under the deal, MSN will offer hockey news and statistics from NHL.com and the NHL.com Network, as well as free audio broadcasts of games in its Windows Media format.

Thursday's deal marks Microsoft's second major expansion in sports programming on MSN in as many months. In September, the software giant partnered with Disney's ESPN Internet in a cross-marketing agreement. Both moves highlight Microsoft's ongoing attempts to partner with media companies by offering them technology in return for distribution.

"Teaming up with the NHL is a natural step in the ongoing commitment of MSN to bring the best available content to consumers," Yusuf Mehdi, vice president of MSN, said in a statement.

Professional sports leagues have been signing a string of deals this year to distribute content online.

RealNetworks, which is battling Microsoft for dominance of the streaming media market, paid $20 million this spring for a three-year exclusive deal to audio broadcast Major League Baseball games over the Web. The company also has rights to broadcast National Basketball Association games, which it offers as part of its GoldPass Web programming service.

CBS SportsLine, Viacom and AOL Time Warner, meanwhile, signed the National Football League to a five year cross-promotion and production deal. In a setback for Walt Disney, NFL.com agreed to switch its production contract from the media company's ESPN Internet to SportsLine.