NEW YORK — Looking to expand the reach and popularity of its Thursday night package — and make some money in the process — the NFL announced Wednesday it will partner with CBS in televising the series.
CBS will produce 14 Thursday night games, with Jim Nantz and Phil Simms in the broadcast booth, and carry the first eight, which will be simulcast on the NFL Network.
The NFL Network will televise the last six Thursday games exclusively, even though they will be produced by CBS, plus a Saturday night doubleheader in Week 16, using an announcer team to be determined.
NBC still has rights to the Thursday night opener and Thanksgiving night, meaning CBS/NFLN will do Thursday games in Weeks 2-12, then Weeks 14-16.
NFL Network hosts and analysts will be featured in pregame, halftime and postgame coverage. Brad Nessler and Mike Mayock had been the network’s lead game announcers.
The agreement covers only the 2014 season. The NFL has an option for an additional year.
Nantz and Simms no longer will call games every Sunday. They likely will be used only in weeks when CBS has a big national doubleheader game.
The quality of the Thursday matchups is not likely to change dramatically, because each team has to play on that night during the season. Still, the NFL hopes that by involving CBS it can turn Thursdays into the kind of prime-time TV event that Sunday and Monday nights are.
CBS also provides a wider reach. It is in all 115 million U.S. television homes; NFL Network is in about 72 million.
Every major broadcast network was involved in the bidding. It is not yet clear how much CBS paid. Sports Business Journal reported initial bids were in the high $200 million range.
The NFL faces a delicate balance in trying to sell off games without causing a big drop in the fees paid by distributors for its NFL Network. The prior 13-game package was an important incentive in getting companies such as Cablevision — which owns Newsday — to carry the network.
“NFL Network built Thursday into a night for NFL fans,” commissioner Roger Goodell said in a news release. “Our goal is to bring these games to more fans on broadcast television with unprecedented promotion and visibility for Thursday Night Football on CBS.”
Said CBS president Leslie Moonves: “We are very pleased to build on our outstanding partnership with the NFL by expanding our coverage to Thursday nights. CBS is a premium-content company and the NFL represents the best premium content there is. I look forward to all this new deal will do for us not only on Thursday nights, but across our entire schedule.”
CBS Sports chairman Sean McManus added, “The NFL is the most powerful programming in television. To add a prime-time 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.”