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 NEW YORK (AP) -The NFL quietly changed its policy this season to allow more fans to see games on its network.
The shift affects a relatively small number of viewers who live in outlying areas to the cities of the teams playing.
NFL Network games have always been simulcast on an over-the-air station in each market. Some of those stations are carried on cable systems outside the market, but before this year, the games were blacked out.
Now those systems' subscribers will be able to watch. Other residents in those areas who don't get the channel on cable still won't see the games unless they receive NFL Network. The channel is available in fewer than 40 percent of U.S. homes with televisions, as the league has feuded with the nation's largest cable providers about whether it should be carried on a basic tier.
``It made more sense to us upon reflection that if a cable station was carrying the programing 24-7 that it be allowed to carry our NFL Network games,'' NFL executive vice president Joe Browne said Monday.
people outside the local market who want to watch the game at home but can't. The policy change helps some but not all of those fans, and the numbers vary greatly from team to team.
This Thursday's Eagles-Cardinals game on NFL Network will be simulcast on WPVI in Philadelphia; viewers in Harrisburg, York, Scranton and Wilkes-Barre who get the station on cable now will be able to watch, as well. But the Phoenix station airing the game isn't carried on any cable systems outside the local market, so no additional fans will have access.
About 50,000-60,000 extra subscribers to Atlantic Broadband in western Pennsylvania could see last week's Steelers-Bengals game, said David Dane, the company's senior vice president and general manager for the region.
Thirteen senators wrote commissioner Roger Goodell in late October before this season's first NFL Network game, asking that the league expand its definition of what constitutes a team's home market. Goodell said several days later the definition would not change.
The NFL did not make an announcement when it changed its policy regarding the stations carried by cable systems outside the local market. The shift came to light when Sen. Arlen Specter, who has recently sparred with the league over several issues, sent out a news release Sunday about the Cardinals-Eagles game.
Browne said the NFL didn't make an announcement because the move affected relatively few people, leaving most fans in the same predicament over games on the network.
``We don't want to raise hopes,'' he said.
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