Updated from 7:46 a.m. EST

NBC

and

World Wrestling Federation Entertainment

(WWFE)

announced Wednesday that they were forming a partnership to own and run the new spring football league that the WWF is forming, in a deal that brings professional football back to the television network.

Under the terms of the deal, WWF and NBC will each own 50% of the

XFL

football league and its eight teams, which are expected to begin playing in February 2001.

NBC, a unit of

General Electric

(GE) - Get Report

, will also acquire a 3% stake in World Wrestling Federation Entertainment for $30 million, buying 2.3 million newly issued shares for $13 a share.

The deal was announced Wednesday afternoon. WWF shares gained 1 1/2, or 8%, to 19, while GE shares rose 3, or 1.9%, to 159. (WWF shares closed up 1/16, or 0.4%, at 17 3/8 while GE shares closed up 8, or 5%, at 164).

NBC will broadcast the XFL games on Saturday nights from February through April. The network will also broadcast the championship game, which is scheduled for April 21, 2001.

Unlike most programming deals, the WWF will capture most of the advertising revenue. That arrangement is similar to deals the WWF has signed with carriers of its signature wrestling programming.

The deal marks the return of professional football to NBC, which carried

National Football League

games for more than 30 years before losing the rights to

CBS

(CBS) - Get Report

in 1998.

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After being cut out of the NFL's latest programming contract, NBC flirted with starting a new pro league, in partnership with

Time Warner's

(TWX)

Turner Broadcasting

, before abandoning those plans.

For the WWF, which

announced the new league at a typically flamboyant press conference earlier this year, the deal with NBC answers at least one question about the viability of its plan: The XFL's TV success will play a huge part in determining its future. No new football league has reached any measure of long-term success since the

American Football League

agreed to merge with the NFL in the late 1960s. The XFL, on which the WWF plans to spend some $100 million over the next several years, is scheduled to launch in February.

The deal with NBC may not be the only TV deal that the WWF makes -- the company has indicated that it is looking for multiple TV partners, and a cable network remains a possibility. Industry speculation had

Viacom

(VIA) - Get Report

unit

UPN

, which carries the WWF's highly rated

Smackdown!

, as a likely broadcast partner for the XFL, but the two sides were unable to reach a deal.

Potential cable partners include

USA Networks

(USAI) - Get Report

, which also carries WWF programming, and CBS'

TNN

cable network.