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NFL, Yahoo score on Net streaming deal

The National Football League says that it will use the Web giant's services to broadcast its weekly gridiron games through the Internet.

The National Football League said today that it will use Web giant Yahoo's services to broadcast its weekly gridiron games through the Internet.

The deal signifies another step that professional sports leagues have taken to let Internet users tune into game day events. For Yahoo, the company adds the NFL to a growing list of sports leagues, including the National Basketball League and Major League Baseball, that are using its Web broadcasting services.

Football fans can listen to the streams through the league's Web site and individual teams' sites. The broadcast sites will also link to Yahoo Sports, which offers a real-time play-by-play Java window. The deal is multiyear, and the companies will share revenues from advertising sales on the sites, according to an NFL representative.

Unlike television, where networks have direct broadcasting rights for games, Yahoo will rebroadcast NFL games live through existing local radio stations. These radio stations already have deals with their local teams for broadcast rights.

Tonya Antonucci, senior producer of Yahoo Sports, declined to elaborate on the deals. But the door remains open to how Yahoo and the NFL work off each other.

"We're focused just on elements of the deal and (are) open to exploring new marketing opportunities with the NFL and will continue to push the tying and distribution of their assets online," Antonucci said.

Broadcasting deals, especially those involving the NFL, traditionally have been highly controversial agreements that have sparked bidding wars between major TV networks. The NFL has negotiated billion-dollar deals from networks hungry for large weekend audiences and strong advertising revenues. Given the high demand for sports programming, these bidding wars could likely spread to the Internet.

Patrick Keane, an analyst at Jupiter Communications, said sports leagues have viewed the Internet as an added perk to their broadcast deals. But if more Net users turn to the Internet to get a piece of the action, the deal structures could quickly change.

"It's another revenue opportunity for the leagues, but you'll see more deals like this," Keane said. "Internet rights should be sold as a separate entity to the highest bidder."

But for now, the Internet remains an untapped broadcast medium for the major sports leagues. The NFL said it wants to use its deal with Yahoo to let fans living in other cities follow their hometown teams.

"It's more of a service for the displaced fan," said Brian McCarthy, an NFL spokesman.