CBS, NFL big winners with Thursday Night Football

(Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports)
(Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports)

On August 12, I wrote an article for Fields of Green about why CBS’ acquisition of the rights to broadcast the NFL on Thursday night was a smart move for both the CBS and the NFL.

Three games have since been broadcast and the results are in, and they are far better than even I expected or, likely, anyone expected. CBS has won every Thursday night by a wide margin, sometimes tripling the viewership CBS had from the prior year (Ravens vs. Steelers 13.1 rating vs. the prior year of 4.1 and “audience share” this year of 23 vs. 7 last year).

Even in the first game (Atlanta vs. Tampa Bay), which was a blowout, the ratings towered over the competition, giving CBS it best premier week since 2007 and best Thursday night performance since 2006.

The NFL is also a huge winner due to the ratings vs. last year when the games were only on the NFL Network. For example, Thursday night’s game (New York Giants vs. Washington) on CBS boasted a 96 percent increase over last year’s game, a game shown on the NFL Network.

Last year, many were saying the NFL just doesn’t work on Thursday night. It’s too much NFL and people need a break. Those people were wrong. The NFL just had to find the right venue.

These strong ratings are also allowing for the promotional benefit of the rest of CBS’ primetime schedule, as well as the obvious financial gains that come with higher ratings. These towering ratings are coming against the backdrop of a very rough period for the NFL given several highly publicized scandals. The viewing public doesn’t seem to be tuning out.

The winners due to CBS’ gamble to put the NFL on Thursday night begin with CBS for the obvious reason. The NFL is similarly a winner because it demonstrated that the league can generate significant revenue on even more broadcast nights. Another boon to the NFL is that the CBS contract is only for one year. I’m sure FOX, NBC and ESPN/ABC are sharping their pencils to determine how much they can bid for the rights next year.

A subtle winner is also broadcast TV overall (CBS, NBC, ABC and Fox). The NFL being on broadcast as compared to cable has resulted in Thursday night ratings this year that are 8 to 9 times higher than last year.

Commissioner Roger Goodell may not be the best at handling certain off-field issues, but he sure knows how to create value for the owners.


Brian Mulligan is currently the CEO of Brooknol Advisors, a Media, Entertainment and Sports Advisory Company. Mr. Mulligan has held CEO, Chairman, COO or CFO position of virtually every media/entertainment vertical for majors over a 30 year career, from Co-Chairman of Universal Pictures, CEO of Universal Television, Chairman of FOX Broadcasting and Cable, EVP/CFO of a Fortune 50 Company, SVP of MCA INC, EVP of Strategic Planning and Corporate Development Universal, Senior Executive Advisor Boston Consulting, Vice Chairman of Media/Telecom of a Money Center Bank, and worked extensively in/with private equity. Instrumental in over $175 billion of media and entertainment transactions.

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