CBS Touts Thursday Night NFL Games, Super Bowl 50

Sales execs say ad progress for big game is ahead of schedule
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CBS Sports execs and a raft of talent from NFL broadcasts on Thursday night and Sunday converged at the network's midtown New York headquarters Tuesday for the annual NFL Media Day. Along with touting the upcoming second year of its Thursday collaboration with NFL Network, which starts Sept. 17, the network also highlighted Super Bowl 50, with the sales team asserting that the process is outpacing expectations.

While not apples-to-apples, comparisons between Thursday Night Football when it aired only on the NFL Network vs. 2014, when it added the primetime clout of CBS as well are pretty compelling. Average ratings spiked 52% for the season and boosted overall tune-in to the once-distribution-challenged NFL Network.

Nevertheless, the reup with CBS covers just the eight games this fall. The single-season renewal reflects a degree of uncertainty about "what we want to do long term," said Brian Rolapp, executive VP of media for the NFL and head of the network. "There are a lot of changes in the media landscape. We've been very up-front with CBS and everyone else about that."

CBS Sports chief Sean McManus said the teaming with the NFL brought nothing but upside for the network. But looking more broadly at pro football, he pointed to the late game each Sunday afternoons. "That is our bread and butter and has been for the last 14 years," he said. Ratings exceed the numbers of games in primetime on Thursday, Sunday and Monday, he noted.

Preparations are well under way for Super Bowl 50 next Feb. 7. A special trailer was shown to the assembled media. Its voiceover touted the fact that it will be the 19th Super Bowl for CBS, more than any other network. "The event no one wants to miss," the voiceover intoned. "The game no one will ever, ever forget."

Advertisers are showing signs of not wanting to miss out, according to CBS sales execs. Network sales chief Jo Ann Ross and her sports lieutenants John Bogusz and Tony Taranto pronounced themselves "pleased" with inventory status for the big game, with Taranto noting that he began official talks with agencies the day after Super Bowl XLIX. They shied away from offering specific inventory numbers. "We're in good shape, we're happy," Ross said. "For a week in August when everyone's on vacation, it's a pretty good week for us." CBS Chairman and CEO Leslie Moonves said earlier this month on the company's quarterly earnings call that a 30-second spot would fetch at least $5 million, which would be up 11% from rates NBC got for last February's game.

Among the other minor announcements Tuesday, a new set for Sunday studio show The NFL Today was unveiled, which will also incorporate some new formatting and placement of hosts around the set. Also, as part of ongoing synergy between CBS and Showtime, the weekly wrap-up show Inside the NFL said Adam Schein would be coming aboard as a co-host.

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