“This is the program we know is going to be on the air for many, many years,” CBS CEO Leslie Moonves said of his network’s new Thursday NFL package, to TV critics he noted have slogged through about two weeks of Q&A’s for new TV series, almost all of which will die quick deaths — “even ours.”
“This, however, is a sure thing,” Moonves boasted at his Q&A session at TCA Summer TV Press Tour 2014. “This is the single best product on television anywhere.”
That said, the deal is a one-year pact only, after which the NFL could take all that increased awareness CBS has ginned up for the franchise and slap it back on NFL Network exclusively. “We have not made a determination beyond one year,” NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said when asked this afternoon if he’d commit to more. “We made the decision knowing it’s a short term, for what we think is a long-term strategy to build Thursday night [for NFL]. We believe the awareness of Thursday football will go up significantly,” he said, stating the obvious.
“We knew going in this was a one-year deal,” Moonves jumped in. “It’s our job to show the NFL what we can do. And we’re confident they’re going to feel like CBS did a tremendous job; we’re confident after this year is over they’ll sit down and hopefully give us a longer deal than that,” he said.
Inevitably, talk turned to NFL player concussions, which has made headlines of late. Ten days before this Q&A, a federal judge granted preliminary approval to a landmark deal that would compensate thousands of former NFL players for concussion-related claims, according to press reports. The ruling by U.S. District Judge Anita Brody in Philadelphia came about two weeks after the NFL agreed to remove a $675 million cap on damages,” the NFL said in its own reports of the judge’s decision.
Goodell said today the NFL is “proud of the position we’ve taken in making sports safer, citing a “government study” that says the average NFL player lives three years longer than the average male. “The game of football has never been safer than it is today,” he insisted. Rule changes have been “positive change” and getting football play “back to the way it should be — taking the head out of the game” which he said was good from both a safety and a gameplay perspective.
Eventually, Moonves called a halt to that line of questioning. So the critics talked instead about the racial slur that is the name of the Washington football team — another hot-button issue. CBS Sports chief Sean McManus said, “we don’t tell announcers what to say about any topic.” Goodell added that the NFL “does not dictate to our broadcast partners how” to handle that controversy, adding “that’s their decision,” which seemed to conclude that conversation.
Back in February, CBS announced it had snagged the NFL Thursday football package, in a move that blocked another network — NBC maybe – from getting back in the ratings game on the night. CBS has owned the night for several seasons running with the biggest scripted show on television – The Big Bang Theory – and nabbing half the NFL Thursday package means BB won’t be pitted against football on a competitor. The eight-week package also means CBS’ Thursday scripted shows will have fewer reruns in-season, virtually guaranteeing better numbers this coming season. Scripted fare returns to the night on CBS in November. And then there’s the promotional value of a Thursday football package that begins two weeks before Premiere Week.
Just about everyone – including Google — was interested in rights to the NFL games. CBS and NFL Network will simulcast eight early season games on Thursday nights; the NFL’s cable channel will air eight additional ones including two Saturday matches. The deal runs for the 2014 season unless the NFL wants to extend it to 2015. ABC, Fox, NBC and Turner also bid for the package with initial offers that approached $300M, Sports Business Daily reported back then. CBS will produce all 16 games, and the Thursday night ones will include its lead broadcasters Jim Nantz and Phil Simms. CBS announcers will join NFL Network hosts and analysts in the pregame, halftime and postgame shows.
The NFL Network has aired Thursday Night Football for the last five years and reported last December that in 2013 the games attracted an average audience of 8M viewers — up 10% vs 2012.