Sloppy, dangerous, boring and greedy are just a few of the words NFL players and fans have used to describe “Thursday Night Football.”
The NFL began its slate of Thursday night games back in 2006, and while players have panned the shorter time between game weeks and fans have criticized the overall quality of play, the league has slowly expanded the number of midweek matchups from five to now 14 this season.
Despite the criticism, CBS, which already broadcasts the bevy of AFC games on Sundays across the nation, came to terms with the NFL to take over as the producer of “Thursday Night Football” starting this season.
CBS, FOX and NBC agreed to a nine-year television rights contract extension with the NFL in 2011, which will reportedly earn America’s most popular sports league an estimated $3 billion to $4 billion a season until 2022. However, it was CBS that landed the extra 16-game deal to carry and produce even more games.
CBS will produce and televise eight early season games simulcast by the NFL Network. Starting with the Week Two matchup between the Baltimore Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers on Sept. 11 and through Week Eight, CBS will trot out its best on-air talent including announcers Jim Nantz and Phil Simms with Tracy Wolfson reporting on the sidelines. The same crew will still cover the rest of the Thursday night schedule from Weeks Nine to 12 and Weeks 14 to 16.
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“The NFL is the most powerful programming in television,” CBS Sports chairman Sean McManus said after the partnership was announced in February.
“To add a primetime NFL package to our successful Sunday AFC package further strengthens our position in the sports marketplace. We look forward to having Jim and Phil and our top production team showcased in prime time on Thursday nights.”
The deal is expected to provide CBS a huge ratings boost on Thursdays. The NFL Network’s ratings jumped to a record-high average of 8 million viewers over their 13-game schedule last year, a 10 percent increase compared to 2012.
During the 2013-14 TV season, NBC’s “Sunday Night Football” was the highest rated show in the country, drawing an 8.0 rating and 21 million viewers on average. CBS sitcom “The Big Bang Theory” was second with a 6.2 rating. CBS also airs ratings juggernaut dramas “NCIS” and spin-off “NCIS: Los Angeles,” and an NFL game nestled in between those top programs could help CBS regain its crown as the top rated network in primetime from NBC, who reclaimed the adults 18-49 demographic for the first time in 10 years last season.
It remains to be seen if the NFL and CBS will continue the partnership in the long term, with the league holding a contract option for next season. But the New York Times reported how CBS has used its talented roster of stars from its biggest shows like “The Big Bang Theory” and “Two and a Half Men” for a full marketing blitz titled “Football starts here,” for the last two months. CBS Marketing Group president George F. Schweitzer told The Times the campaign is meant to link “the world of sports and the world of entertainment.”
Details of how much CBS paid for the extra slate of games are unknown, but it was reported by Variety last month that the network is seeking $500,000 for a 30-second spot, squarely in the middle of the $628,000 NBC charges for “Sunday Night Football” and the $408,000 ESPN demands for “Monday Night Football.”
The NFL season begins on Thursday night with the Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks hosting the Green Bay Packers. Coverage will be provided by NBC.