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Rupert Murdoch is huddling a lot closer with his new partners at the National Football League.

Last week, Fox Inc., a unit of Mr. Murdoch's News Corp., became a "co-partner" in the relaunch of the NFL's World League.

At press time, the deal was purely a business venture and it was unclear what role Mr. Murdoch's media holdings would have in televising games of the revamped league when it kicks off with six European teams in April 1995.

Financial terms of the deal weren't disclosed, but one executive said Fox has a 49% stake in the league to the NFL's 51%. Both will have equal representation on the board.

The deal is a signal that Mr. Murdoch has big, global plans for the NFL.

"This is a company with a global vision," said Neil Austrian, NFL president. "They know the European marketplace."

NFL officials said TV elements of the new league haven't been worked out, but Fox executives believe Murdoch's News Corp. would likely play a role, at least in Europe, via its SkySport satellite TV service.

NFL officials have been reluctant to include U.S. TV coverage of the World League, because of the embarrassing results of ABC's coverage during the 1991 and 1992 seasons.

"It was dismal," said Gerri Donini, president of IDM International, a New York-based independent media company and an early supporter of the original World League when she was head of the national TV buying group at Young & Rubicam. "The smartest thing they could do is leave it in Europe."

Fox executives said it's possible Fox Broadcasting Co. may air a few of the World League games in the U.S., possibly as part of its new F/X cable channel.

Reebok International has already committed to one of three World League charter sponsorships, valued at an estimated $10 million apiece. Coca-Cola Co., McDonald's Corp. and Nestle are believed to be vying for the remaining two.

As part of Fox's U.S. NFL deal, the network is committed to promoting the NFL year-round, particularly to Fox's twentysomething audience.

Fox is developing pre-season football specials and has begun integrating NFL players and personalities into its prime-time entertainment programming.

Last week, Fox shot an episode of "The Adventures of Brisco County Jr." featuring Terry Bradshaw as the sheriff of a posse that includes Dallas Cowboys linebacker Ken Norton Jr. and former NFL star Carl Banks.

Mr. Bradshaw, one of Fox's NFL commentators, also appeared in a recent episode of Fox's "Sinbad."

Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Randall Cunningham is scheduled to appear in an upcoming episode of Fox's hit "Martin."

The strategy appears to be paying off in terms of Fox's relationship with the NFL. Last week, the league awarded Fox an impressive pre-season schedule, including: the Denver Broncos at the San Francisco 49ers on Aug. 12, the Green Bay Packers at the New Orleans Saints on Aug. 19 and the New York Giants at the Chicago Bears on Aug. 27.

All three games will air in prime time with a starting time of 8 p.m. (ET).

The regular season schedule won't be set until mid-April.

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