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NFL May Punt ESPN.com for A New Producer

The National Football League Monday blocked an offer from ESPN.com to continue producing nfl.com.

The issue was first reported in the online edition of the Wall Street Journal, but the paper was unable to gather the reason for the professional football league's rejection.

The NFL said the deal on the table was pegged at $250 million over five years, including $50 million in cash up front. The bid also included an estimated $150 million in promotional value during the five year period.

ESPN.com's current three-year-old agreement with the NFL expires on April 23, the day after the NFL draft, at which point other leading sports Web sites, such as SportsLine.com, may bid on the rights to publish the site.

SportsLine.com spokesperson Larry Wahl would not offer any other comment except to say that SportsLine would indeed be interested in hosting NFL.com if given the opportunity. ESPN.com is part of the Walt Disney Co. Internet Group, which is controlled by Walt Disney Co. An ESPN.com spokesperson from the parent firm's New York office would not comment on the spurned deal Monday.

If the NFL does indeed plan to draw up another play in terms of who would be running its Web site, the deal would be as lucrative a score for the new team as it would be a blow for the Walt Disney Internet Group, which has laid off more than 500 employees over the last month.

The pressured Web portal Go.com was finally sacked on Jan. 29, releasing about 400 employees. Analysts said some hub Web sites have a rough go of it and suffer from ill-conception, especially when trying to tackle larger opponents, such as Yahoo! and America Online Inc.

At the time of Go.com's demise, Disney said it intended to instead focus on individual sites, such as ESPN.com and NFL.com, but if a top-dollar contract from a premier professional sports league can not be secured, it would have to be seen as a cause for concern on Disney's part.

Go.com wasn't the only Disney Internet property to take a beating; the Walt Disney Internet Group cut 135 workers primarily from ABCNEWS.com and ABC.com in the North Hollywood, Seattle and New York offices.