With an 8 game package of Thursday and Saturday contests still up for grabs in 2006, the NFL has the requisite bait to attract a partner for a fledgling new channel, writes the NY Times’ Richard Sandomir.

A strategy appears to be evolving: create a new all-sports network, and use it as leverage to get more subscribers for the NFL Network. Perhaps operators would get a discount if they took both. It may be difficult to sell both networks into the market simultaneously, but the N.F.L. will try.

“We hope our potential programming partner can help us get more exposure, even without putting games on the NFL Network,” Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said.

Patriots owner Robert Kraft added, “If we can have the new multisport platform, and the NFL Network continues to grow, that would be the ideal solution.”

He resisted the idea of turning the NFL Network into the all-sports channel. “We want it to be all football,” said Kraft, who, like Jones, is on the N.F.L. broadcast committee, which is chaired by Pat Bowlen, the Denver Broncos’ owner.

The league could go solo and award itself the eight games, which would vastly increase its distribution and let it raise fees to its cable and satellite subscribers. That route would deprive it of upfront money from a partner but would give the league all the upside in revenues and long-term equity growth. But, Bowlen said, “I think we’re leaning toward a partner.”

The advantage of being the N.F.L. is that it always has more TV suitors than rights to sell. The Thursday-Saturday package, the smallest of all packages, has come along at the right time to satisfy the ambition of a crowd of media giants, including Comcast, Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation, ESPN, Turner Sports, NBC Universal and CBS, with its newly acquired CSTV.