CBS lands Thursday NFL deal

Russell Wilson of the Seattle Seahawks celebrates with the Vince Lombardi trophy.
(Rob Carr / Getty Images)

CBS has scored the rights for a new Thursday night football package.

The one-year deal with the National Football League is for eight games that CBS will air in the first half of the NFL season starting this fall. While terms were not disclosed, it is less than $300 million, people familiar with the matter said.

As part of the agreement, the league-owned NFL Network will also simulcast the eight games carried on CBS. In addition, the NFL Network will have six exclusive Thursday games and two exclusive Saturday games. CBS will produce those games as well.

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The pact with CBS does not change the NFL’s deal with NBC for the first game of the season, which is traditionally on a Thursday. NBC also keeps its Thursday Thanksgiving game as well.

Other bidders for the package included Fox, NBC and TNT.

For the NFL, the new pact will give it a chance to dominate another night of prime-time television. Its Sunday night game on NBC is usually the most-watched show of the year.

One of the criticisms of the Thursday package on the NFL Network is that the games have not been as high-quality as the games on Fox, NBC, CBS and ESPN. That has been reflected in the ratings, which have been smaller than the NFL would like.


While the bigger CBS platform will no doubt increase the audience, NFL schedulers will be under pressure to provide better matches without diluting the Sunday games.

“Our goal is to bring these games to more fans on broadcast television with unprecedented promotion and visibility,” said NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell.

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Although the NFL Network will no longer be the sole home of Thursday football, it will still have enough exclusive games to maintain the high fees the channel gets from pay-TV distributors. According to industry consulting firm SNL Kagan, the monthly cost of the NFL Network to distributors is about $1.40 per subscriber.


For CBS, the deal will strengthen its already powerful Thursday schedule. CBS will delay the launch of its prime-time shows including the hit comedy “The Big Bang Theory” until after its eight games have aired. That means in theory CBS can order fewer episodes of its sitcoms and dramas and possibly have fewer reruns. It can also use its strong Thursday shows to help boost other nights until the NFL run is done.

If the one-year experiment pays off for the NFL, it has the option to renew the agreement with CBS.


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