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ESPN has declined to match OLN’s bid for the NHL. This means OLN which had been known as the network of the Tour de France now is a challenger to the Worldwide Leader in Sports. OLN, which is owned by Comcast, offered several carrots including putting NHL programming on a digital tier, something ESPN cannot offer. In addition, the NHL liked OLN’s offer to put games on its On Demand service.

OLN has guaranteed $135 million over two years with an option for a third. ESPN was about to begin a $60 million contract when the NHL Lockout started and wiped out the 2004-05 season. It opted out and OLN swooped in with an offer.

Some analysts believe that this is the beginning of an OLN challenge to ESPN. Comcast is in negotiations for a package of late season Thursday-Saturday NFL games and is in a position to get NASCAR programming.

John Consoli of Mediaweek has the story.