CBS Sports Chairman Sean McManus: Thursday Night Football is Lead Production Team’s “Number One Assignment”

CBS shook up the sports and television world Wednesday when it landed the hotly-contested NFL Thursday primetime package in a deal valued between $250 million and $300 million, according to various sources.

NFLCBSLogoThe deal outlines that CBS Sports will produce all 16 Thursday-night games next season, with the first eight weeks airing on CBS and the final eight airing on NFL Network.

From both in-front-of and behind the camera, CBS Sports is dedicating its “A Game” team to the full Thursday night package which includes announcers Jim Nantz and Phil Simms and the producer/director team of Lance Barrow and Mike Arnold.

CBS already pays $1 billion annually for its NFL on CBS franchise of Sunday afternoon games but CBS Sports Chairman Sean McManus said in a phone interview with SVG that the Thursday primetime schedule is now the top production team’s “number one assignment.”

“We want to make sure that we don’t burn them out,” he says, adding the lead production staff would only work half of the season’s Sunday slate, all in the high profile 4 o’clock window on big CBS doubleheader weekends. “It’s a lot of work and the preparations these teams do is significant. We’re still working it out but, for now, Thursday Night Football, for 16 weeks out of the season is their number one priority.”

"I think [our] Thursday night dominance would have been in jeopardy if somebody else were airing Thursday Night Football against us. We were really determined to make sure that this event was showcased on CBS." - Sean McManus

“I think [our] Thursday night dominance would have been in jeopardy if somebody else were airing Thursday Night Football against us. We were really determined to make sure that this event was showcased on CBS.” – Sean McManus

There is no official word yet on what mobile production unit vendor will be used for the slate of games as CBS and NFL Network executives will sit down in the coming weeks to iron out those details. CBS utilizes NEP Broadcasting trucks on its main NFL broadcasts while NFL Network made a commitment just two years ago to Game Creek Video and the building of a pair of 53-foot double expandos, Pride and Glory.

All four major broadcasters were in the mix for the coveted deal. CBS’s win comes as a bit of a surprise as McManus has said in the past that the network does not typically like to get involved in rights battles. The company has been content with its portfolio of Sunday NFL Football, SEC college football, the NCAA Tournament, and two of golf’s major championships – highlighted by The Masters. However, NFL primetime rights were too juicy to pass up.

“Its an opportunity to showcase Thursday Night Football and also not wanting to compete against it,” says McManus. “We’re the dominant network in primetime and we’re clearly the dominant network on Thursday Night. I think that Thursday night dominance would have been in jeopardy if somebody else were airing Thursday Night Football against us. We were really determined to make sure that this event was showcased on CBS.”

According to McManus, that determination came all the way from the top: CBS Corp. president and CEO Leslie Moonves.

“I’ve done a lot of deals with my boss and I’ve never seen him this engaged and as enthusiastic from the very beginning,” says McManus. “I’ll be honest, I think that had a real affect on the NFL. He was the lead negotiator on this deal and I think when the NFL saw that, they realized [how committed we were].”

The new deal is also a big win for the NFL which will simulcast CBS’s first eight games on NFL Network. In addition, there will be significant crossover in on-air talent from CBS and NFL Network. McManus added that NFL Network talent would also be featured during CBS’s Sunday pregame show NFL Today.

It’s a relationship that features many similiarities to CBS Sports’ successful relationship with Turner Sports for broadcasting the NCAA Tournament.

“I’m a firm believer that if you have access to the best talent in the business, you’re going to put on the best programming,” says McManus. “They’ve got some terrific hosts and analysts working in their studio operations and I see them being blended in with ours to really create an all-star team.”