Comcast won a summary judgment in May from a New York State Supreme Court judge that it was within its rights to carry the network on a sports tier rather than the more widely carried basic tier. But the NFL challenged that and filed for its own summary judgment that it should be more widely carried.
That initial decision was reversed Tuesday by a panel of judges, who also rejected the NFL's request for summary judgment, and the two parties will now have to go to trial.
The four-judge panel concluded, "The agreements are ambiguous with respect to the scope of the tiering provision and that neither party has established a definitive interpretation as a matter of law. Accordingly, the motion court’s holding that the agreements unambiguously permit Comcast to tier the NFL Network is reversed, and summary judgment is denied to both parties."
"We are pleased that the lower-court decision was reversed," the NFL said in a statement. "We believe today’s decision ultimately will lead to the restoration of NFL Network service to the millions of fans who received it before the network was moved to an expensive sports tier."
Comcast was looking to put the best face on the reversal, saying in its statement: "We are pleased that the Appellate Court agreed that Comcast's main argument is a strong one and denied the NFL's request to enter judgment in their favor. We look forward to pressing ahead with discovery and trial in this case to vindicate our right to carry NFL Network on a sports tier, which is the fairest and best result for our customers."
The two parties have been locked in a legal battle over carriage, which included a separate suit filed by Comcast against the league over a campaign to get viewers to switch to satellite.
The flap also shared the spotlight with the New England Patriots’ early run toward immortality and the effort to get the team’s regular-season-ending game at the New York Giants wider carriage than its NFL Network audience.