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FOX MAY EXIT NHL EARLY

The NHL's ratings may be falling, but its TV rights fees have taken a dramatic jump.

The NHL Board of Governors voted Thursday to approve the Walt Disney Co.'s $600 million, five-year offer for the right to televise league games beginning in 1999 on its ABC, ESPN and ESPN2 networks.

The $120 million a year the NHL will receive is 2.6 times more than ESPN and Fox Sports paid under the current contract that expires after this season.

But Fox, which passed on its right to match 90 percent, or $225 million, of ABC's $250 million bid, now is looking to sell the final year of its deal back to the league.

Fox is projecting losses of $20 million in the upcoming season.

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