Les Moonves wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.
With the month-long, retransmission consent disconnect with Time Warner Cable in the rearview mirror, the CBS CEO and CBS Sports chairman Sean McManus can enjoy the giant viewership that the latest college football game of the century and the Manning Bowl will bring to the network on Saturday and Sunday, respectively. The sports world’s other big event this weekend, the Floyd Mayweather-Canelo Alvarez boxing match, is also on a CBS property, Showtime Pay-Per-View, from Sin City on Saturday night.
Leading off at 3:30 p.m. (ET) on Saturday is the SEC battle royale between "Johnny Football" and "Little Nicky." No. 6 Texas A&M, led by Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel, hosts top-ranked Alabama at College Stadium, helmed by head coach Nick Saban, whose club is seeking a third straight national title.
Although some will argue that CBS might score better with a camera focusing on A.J. McCarron and Brent Musberger’s favorite fan Katherine Webb, the network will have one trained on Manziel. The network’s "Johnny Cam" will aspire to provide more intimate glimpses of college football’s bad boy QB.
A talented runner and thrower, Manziel set an SEC record for all-purpose yardage last year during A&M’s first in the circuit, en route to hoisting the Heisman.
However, his skills have been overshadowed by off-season controversies that saw him attend a Miami Heat NBA Finals game, partying at A&M nemesis UT, and an NCAA probe about whether he signed a ton of autographs for pay. The result of that investigation cost Johnny a half versus Rice, but that didn’t stop him from throwing a trio of TDs after intermission.
Those who prefer Manziel's "Johnny Foolball" moniker point to the 20-year-old’s unapologetic, petulance. Against Rice, Manziel rubbed his fingers together in a show-me-the-money gesture, and faked like he was signing his signature. He also taunted the overmatched Owls, while pointing to the scoreboard, antics that drew an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty and a rebuke from A&M coach Kevin Sumlin, whom Manziel ignored as he walked back to the Aggies’ bench.
Vern Lundquist, who will be announcing the game with partner Gary Danielson, calls Manziel the “most polarizing college football player” he’s seen in his half-century of broadcasting.
Saban also has his fair share of backers and detractors. Depending on one’s rooting interest, Saban comes across as either arrogant or single-minded in his demands for Alabamian on-field perfection. For those who like his role in Roll Tide, he’s a god with his own statue outside of Bryant-Denny Stadium, just like the hounds-tooth deity Bear Bryant (also hated by the alumni of that legend’s former employer, A&M).
Satan, er, Saban, is viewed as a demon down on the Bayou, where he bailed from Baton Rouge after leading LSU to the 2003 national title for the Miami Dolphins. On Sundays, Saban didn’t prove to be nearly as smart as he is on Saturdays, an education the collegiate coaching fraternity has come to rue.
Given Alabama's creampuff out-of-conference schedule and cross-SEC games, the A&M game is the likely the only regular-season threat to the Tide, which is a 7.5-point road dog, until it entertains LSU on Nov. 9
When those SEC West squads squared off as unbeatens in Dennis-Bryant on Nov. 5, 2010, it was that season’s game of the century, not to mention CBS’s. LSU’s 9-6 OT triumph averaged just over 20 million viewers, Black Rock’s best with college football since Notre Dame-Miami tackled 22.49 million watchers on Nov. 25, 1989
Considering that LSU-Bama unfolded later in the season and in primetime, the Aggies-Tide tie-up likely won't push past that mark. But McManus, during an interview on CBS's NFL media day last month, said a competitive contest could pose a challenge to that audience average.
On The Money
The stakes are higher for CBS Corp. on Saturday night in Las Vegas. Showtime has bestowed Mayweather with a six-fight, $200 million contract that enticed him to change corners from rival HBO. The first fight in that series -- Mayweather won a unanimous decision against an outclassed Robert Guererro -- reportedly drew just over 1 million buys.
So now, the ante has been raised. The 36-year-old Mayweather (44-0, 26 KOs), who will be paid upward of $40 million for his work on Saturday night, is taking on a younger, stronger opponent in a WBC/WBA junior middleweight unification tussle at the MGM Grand Garden Arena. A 23-year-old Mexican, Alvarez (42-0-1) carries the hopes and wallets of this nation's Mexican-American boxing fan base. Golden Boy Promotions also points to the redhead’s pulchritude as a draw among the ladies, which along with Mayweather female fans, are keys part of a combination that it hopes will connect with record PPV revenue.
At just under $75 for the HD-version of the card ($64.95 in standard-def), Mayweather-Alvarez, according to Golden Boy Promotions CEO Richard Schaefer, could topple the record $132 million in PPV revenue generated by the"Money" win in 2007 that sent Golden Boy head, Oscar De La Hoya, into retirement. Sadly for Oscar, he will miss Saturday’s match as he has checked into alcohol rehab.
To reach that level, the fight, which has been supported by $80 million in media and marketing, much of it on CBS properties, including the NFL and in primetime, would have to approach 2 million buys. Schaefer, noting that the PPV universe is 30 million homes larger than in 2007, says the Saturday night fight also has an outside shot of nearing the 2.4 million buys for Money-Golden Boy.
Reaping or approaching such a reward doesn’t come without risk. What if Mayweather’s quickness, defensive skills and experience -- as many expect -- result in a one-sided decision that limits interest in an Alvarez redux? With four matches to go on Floyd’s contract, where does Showtime PPV turn for another big score if -- as most suspect -- a match with a diminished Manny Pacquiao will never transpire.
Or what if Father Time or a cruncher from Canelo finally catches up with Money? Showtime PPV would lose the cache of touting the undefeated Mayweather, who might have to take a couple of lesser fights before encoring with Alvarez. Under any circumstance, the contract is a winner for Mayweather, but not necessarily for Showtime's money.
Eli and Peyton Are Coming
As for the Manning matchup, it could be the last between Peyton and Eli -- save perhaps at father Archie’s backyard in Nawlins during autumns in the 2020s. Thus far, Peyton, who threw an NFL record-tying seven TDs in Denver's season-opening dismantling over the defending Super Bowl champion, Baltimore Ravens, owns the edge in their head-to-head conflicts 2-0, However, Eli, who threw four scores and three picks in his New York Giants' loss to Dallas, has two rings, both won at the expense of big brother’s nemesis, Tom Brady.
Given Peyton’s advancing age and NFL scheduling that only ensures cross-divisional contests once every four years, pro football fans should savor this one, which figures to be a shootout at 4:25 p.m. in MetLife Stadium (there are only three other NFL games in the late window, Jacksonville-Oakland, Detroit Arizona and New Orleans-Tampa Bay).
Unless, of course, the Brothers Manning were to meet there again come Feb. 4 in Super Bowl XLVIII. That, no doubt, would prompt smiles from Rupert Murdoch, David Hill, Randy Freer and Eric Shanks.