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Thursday Night Football looks like a bargain for CBS

Thursday Night Football has been a success for CBS.

(Credit: Kirby Lee/Image of Sport-USA TODAY Sports)
(Credit: Kirby Lee/Image of Sport-USA TODAY Sports)

The Thursday Night matchup between New York and Washington pits two major market teams, and the broadcast will probably get solid ratings. It is the third game of Thursday Night Football this year and the program has been a successful purchase so far for CBS. The one-year deal to broadcast the Thursday night game has paid off, which may mean CBS will pay more next year to get the same deal.

Look at the numbers. Thursday Night Football rights were purchased for $275 million for eight games. That is roughly $34 million per game. The last two Thursday night games have brought in roughly 30 million viewers. That means it cost CBS $2.25 per viewer.

The easiest comparison is NBC’s Sunday Night Football, which costs NBC $950 million per year. NBC does have the benefit of the weekly marquee game and flex scheduling later in the season, but the cost is still a little over $59 million per game. The three SNF games to date have brought in a combined 57 million viewers, at a cost of $3.13 per viewer.

NBC’s deal does make it part of the rotation for broadcasting the Super Bowl, but CBS already had that benefit with its Sunday AFC coverage. CBS must also simulcast Thursday Night Football on NFL Network, but that hasn’t stopped the games from being the highest rated TV show on Thursday Night.

CBS also benefits from the plug-and-play aspect of its NFL broadcasts. CBS didn’t have to create new graphics or pay for a new announcing team. Coverage is basically identical to what fans get from CBS on Sunday. Furthermore, CBS can benefit because it isn’t wasting money on new shows or failed pilots. For eight weeks, CBS will win in the ratings without having to develop the next Big Bang Theory. CBS saves on development costs alone. Even if CBS was to purchase shows from other companies, nothing would come close to what Thursday Night Football provides.

CBS can also raise advertising rates for live sports programming, versus what it could charge for a sitcom that can be DVR’ed. The NFL was smart to keep the deal to a one-year test run. After this year, the price will most likely go up.

Michael Colangelo is Assistant Director at the USC Sports Business Institute and Senior Editor of The Fields of Green.

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