CBS Corp. CEO Leslie Moonves is excited to be launching Thursday Night Football on broadcast for the first time the fall — and well aware that it may not stick around.
“This is a sure thing,” Moonves said Thursday at the TCA summer press tour, joined onstage by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft and CBS Sports chairman Sean McManus. “This is the program we know is going to work, we know is going to be on the air for many, many years on broadcast television, and we couldn’t be prouder that the NFL has chosen CBS to be the broadcast network to have Thursday Night Football.”
But Goodell, responding to a reporter’s question about whether the NFL might move the eight games covered under the CBS deal off the network after the end of the current one-year agreement, was non-committal.
“Just to be clear, we have not made a determination, and Les and Sean are aware of this, we have not made a determination beyond the one year,” Goodell said. “We made a decision, and it was a short-term decision in what we think is for a long-term strategy, which again, is to build Thursday night.”
Moonves added, “We knew going in this was a one-year deal. It is our job to show the NFL what we can do and how great it’s going to be and how great the partnership is going to be.”
Goodell also left the door open to the possibility of streaming games live in the near future, pointing out that the league has retained its digital rights separate from its broadcast contracts.
“Our broadcast agreements are for nine years, this is the first of nine years, so we’re committed to the broadcast television model,” Goodell said. “We believe that that is fundamentally the best way to reach the largest audience, and I believe that that has been proven true. We’ve retained some of our digital rights. We’re continuing to evaluate how best to exploit those, either with our partners or independently.”
Other highlights from the panel included:
—Asked about the growing controversy over the Washington Redskins’ name and how it would affect CBS’ announcers, McManus repeated his recent assertion that CBS announcers would be free to refrain from saying the name on air. “We don’t tell our announcers what to say about any topic on television,” he said. “That’s true about team names also.” Noting that the beginning of the season is two months away, McManus said no decision has been made about whether to create an official policy around the name. “We’re looking at it, but right now we don’t have any change to our plan.”
—Asked about the ever-increasing price tags attached to live-sports contracts, Moonves said, “If I may paraphrase a line from The Godfather, the NFL has always been good to its partners.” He added, “We do make a profit even though the rights fees are high.”
—Goodell fielded several questions about injuries and player concussions, responding at one point, “The game of football has never been safer than it is today.”
—With labor and television contracts settled for the immediate future, Goodell said conditions are becoming more favorable for the NFL to place a franchise in Los Angeles. “But it still comes back to do we have the right solution in Los Angeles — and that, as you know, comes back to the stadium,” he said. Kraft added, “I think ownership is collectively concerned that we don’t have a team in downtown L.A.”