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LOS ANGELES, June 20 (Reuters) - Cable sports network ESPN is in talks to possibly carry programming from the NFL Network on its low-rated but widely available ESPN Classic channel, the Wall Street Journal reported on Friday.
The 5-year-old NFL Network, held by National Football League owners, has had trouble reaching its subscriber targets because of disputes with U.S. cable operators.
The football network, which has about 40 million subscribers, has accused the cable operators, including Comcast Corp (CMCSA.O) and Time Warner Cable Inc TWC.N, of unfairly giving affiliated channels better placement and financial terms.
A deal with ESPN, which is offered on basic cable, would give the NFL Network an end-run around the cable operators, which refused to carry it after it withheld eight games from its 2006 TV licensing package to run on its own channel.
Walt Disney Co-owned (DIS.N) ESPN said in a statement that it has "a long term and extensive relationship with the NFL" and is "always in discussions with them about mutual projects."
"We talk to ESPN all the time on a wide range of issues," Dennis Johnson, NFL Network spokesman said on Friday.
NFL Network Chief Executive Steve Bornstein has conducted "high-level" talks with Disney executives recently, and some football team owners have been briefed about the discussions, the Journal reported on its Web site, citing unnamed sources.
Reporting by Gina Keating, editing by Richard Chang