NEW YORK — The NFL has decided to shift eight of its Thursday night games to a broadcast network this fall, and announced Wednesday that CBS had won the bid to showcase more of television’s hottest property.
CBS will air the games during the first eight weeks of the season with its top broadcast team of Jim Nantz and Phil Simms, simulcasting them with the NFL Network. The league’s cable network will show six Thursday night games alone later in the season, produced by CBS with Nantz and Simms also in the booth. Included in the deal is two Saturday games, but it is unclear whether they will be on CBS or the NFL Network.
The NFL said the contract is for one year, and the league has an option to extend it for 2015. Financial terms were not disclosed.
CBS, NBC, ABC, Fox and Turner were all interested in the NFL’s Thursday night package. Live television events like sports and awards shows are increasingly important for broadcasters as the audience fragments for traditional fare, and football games are the most dependable ratings-grabbers. Sunday’s Super Bowl, with 112.2 million viewers, set a record as the most-watched program in U.S. television history.
NBC’s biggest hit each fall is its Sunday night package of NFL games.
The NFL started a limited package of Thursday games in 2006, and showed 13 games on the NFL Network this past season. Its goal is to both increase the visibility of the NFL Network through promotion on television’s most-watched network, along with putting the Thursday games on firmer footing, said Brian Rolapp, the league’s executive vice president for media.
“We want to make Thursday night football as big as possible in the minds of the NFL fan,” Rolapp said.
Part of the reason for a short-term deal is the NFL’s indecision about whether it sees the Thursday night franchise as best for its cable network in years to come or whether the rights money and greater exposure offered by a broadcast network is the smarter financial play.
CBS will have no flexibility in what games it broadcasts on Thursdays. The NFL will announce its Thursday schedule before the season begins, Rolapp said.
Not only will the games provide a short-term boost for CBS, but the network also hopes relationships forged in this deal will offer an advantage if future Thursday games come up for bid.
CBS is already the top-rated broadcast network, and its most popular comedy, “The Big Bang Theory,” airs on Thursday nights. The NFL package will enable CBS to start its Thursday night schedule later in the fall, around the beginning of November, and give it a large audience to promote its other programming. It’s also a defensive move: CBS won’t have to worry about a rival gaining a big Thursday audience.
“CBS is a premium content company, and the NFL represents the best premium content there is,” CBS Corp. Chairman Leslie Moonves said. “I look forward to all this new deal will do for us not only on Thursday nights, but across our entire schedule.”