CBS Sports chief Sean McManus kicked off the network’s NFL media day Tuesday by acknowledging the obsession of many in the room: the company’s long-expected merger with Viacom that was finalized today.
“Anything going on at CBS?” he joked, hours before the deal became official. “There’s nothing going on corporately. It’s been quiet on the CBS corporate front.” When a reporter did ask the obvious question, about how CBS Sports might change post-merger, McManus declined to offer a specific comment. “We all know the value of sports television,” he said. “Whatever happens to CBS corporately, sports is going to remain an important part of our portfolio.”
Football-wise, McManus pointed to last season’s 6% uptick in regular-season viewership, with the 16.4 million viewers on average per game fueling his optimistic view of 2019.
“I feel good about the ratings for this year,” he said. Asked about the political atmosphere of the country, McManus said he didn’t anticipate any issues. He predicted a departure from 2016 and 2017, when the uproar by opponents and partisans of President Donald Trump, stoked by the president himself, hurt ratings and dislodged the NFL’s long grip on American culture.
“In some ways, with everything that’s going on politically, sports is even more valuable in terms of just taking a break from all of the other issues that people are worried about,” he said. “It’s really a respite from what’s going on in the world, and that makes the NFL even more valuable. I don’t see all the attention focused on politics necessarily affecting what happens on Sunday afternoon on CBS.”
CBS again will feature the AFC, which McManus said is on the rise due to a surge of interest in up-and-coming teams including the Cleveland Browns, New York Jets and Oakland Raiders.
McManus declined to address the upcoming negotiations with the NFL for broadcast rights. He said the league has not indicated when it will be willing to start those talks.