The NFL has reached a new deal with CBS that will expand the pro football circuit's presence on Thursday night
The leading broadcast network will televise eight games, mostly on Thursday nights early in the 2014 campaign, with its top on-air team of Jim Nantz and Phil Simms calling the action.
NFL Network will simulcast those contests and then air eight contests exclusively, largely on Thursday nights. As such, games will run on CBS and NFL Network on Thursday nights from weeks 2 through 12 -- NBC will have the season opener and Thanksgiving -- before NFL Network picks up the action again from weeks 14 through 16. The package will conclude with a Saturday doubleheader in week 16 -- an afternoon contest followed by a primetime affair -- that will be drawn from the league's pool of games. It has not been determined if CBS will pick up that night-time match-up.
Nantz and Simms will also host the majority of the league’s in-house service telecasts, with CBS producing all 16 games. NFL Network hosts and analysts will be featured in the pregame, halftime and postgame shows along with CBS Sports announcers. Sources familiar with the situation suggest that with new Thursday night commitments, viewers will see less of Nantz and Simms on Sunday. The duo will likely miss some regional contests and instead concentrate on the big national games in the 4:25 p.m. window. With the retirement of Dan Dierdorf, the network's No. 2 analyst, CBS has to reshape its on-air pairings as it heads into the 2014 NFL season.
Financial terms of the one-year deal, which can be renewed at the league’s option, were not disclosed.
The announcement follows bids from all of the NFL’s current telecast partners: CBS, NBC, Fox and ESPN (for ABC as the worldwide leader has college football commitments on the night), as well as Turner Sports. Some reports indicated that NBC was in a lead position, and the Peacock certainly could have used the NFL to revamp its Thursday night lineup and complement its Sunday Night Football package, which stands as TV’s top show.
CBS is the top player on Thursday night, led by The Big Bang Theory, followed by comedies The Millers, The Crazy Ones and Two and a Half Men, before concluding with drama Elementary at 10 p.m.
It was unclear at press time, how CBS plans to revamp its schedule with the NFL addiiton. Presumably, it could delay the start of those shows and reduce the number of encores, or shift them to other nights during the early stages of the new broadcast season. Big Bang migrated from CBS's Monday night comedy lineup.
A CBS official said no scheduling decisions had been made, but that the network held many options.
"We are very pleased to build on our outstanding partnership with the NFL by expanding our coverage to Thursday nights," said CBS Corp. president and CEO Les Moonves in announcing the deal. "CBS is a premium content company and the NFL represents the best premium content there is. I look forward to all this new deal will do for us not only on Thursday nights, but across our entire schedule."
NFL Network, which counts some 72 million subscribers and collects about $1.25 in monthly subscriber fees, averaged about 8 million viewers -- including about 800,000 watchers from the over-the-air stations in the DMAs of the participating teams -- for its 13-game slate during the 2013 season, by far the smallest audience of any of the league's telecast partners.
With CBS in the mix, the TNF average should rise considerably and enable the NFL to fortify its position on what is a big night for viewing and with studios touting their films, as well as retailers hawking upcoming weekend sales.
Under the new format, NFL Network will add a trio of games. However, eight of the contests will also air on CBS, and that figures to dilute viewing on the cable service, which celebrated its 10th anniversary last November.
Last week at the press conference introducing the upcoming personalized video service NFL Now, executive vice president of media Brian Rolapp, when asked if he expected that distributors would seek a reduction in monthly subscriber fees for the league's in-house network if its game slate were also presented on a larger channel, replied that the league is “interested in enhancing the value of NFL Network.”
“NFL Network built Thursday into a night for NFL fans,” noted NFL commissioner Roger Goodell. “Our goal is to bring these games to more fans on broadcast television with unprecedented promotion and visibility for Thursday Night Football on CBS.”