CBS Sports confident it can keep its NFL AFC games safe from FAANG

Sean McManus (CBS)

NEW YORK—CBS Sports Chairman Sean McManus knows his network has a big renewal negotiation coming up with the NFL, but he’s confident Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Netflix and Google (FAANG) won’t derail those talks.

CBS’ NFL deal for AFC games on Sundays will be up for renewal in 2022, and after losing its split Thursday Night Football package with NBC to Fox Sports, McManus is expecting more competition.

“The negotiations will be spirited,” McManus told the audience at the TV2020 conference at the NAB Show New York. But he remained confident that CBS will protect its AFC football package.

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McManus said the verdict is still out on whether FAANG will spend the large amounts of money necessary to make serious bids for those NFL rights.

“They’re all dipping their toes,” McManus said. He said those platforms will need to decide by 2020, when those big NFL rights enter the renegotiation stage.

He warned the NFL would have to think very hard before taking one of its major packages off broadcast television.

“I think to take one of those packages and move it to a different platform that may not have the reach of broadcast might be a risk for the NFL,” McManus said.

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The NFL has been increasing its distribution across digital platforms. The league has done deals with Amazon for Thursday Night Football as well as with Twitter and Verizon. This season, the NFL also expanded digital streaming rights for its broadcast partners CBS, ESPN, Fox and NBC.

But McManus said broadcast television may have the edge over digital platforms in terms of sports production expertise and distribution. He added that part of the reason sports are still so popular is because they are available to everyone for free through over-the-air broadcasters.

CBS has Super Bowl broadcast rights coming up in 2019, and with spots currently selling in the $5 million range the network is due to make some significant ad revenue. But it’s likely that CBS will have to pay even more to the NFL if it wants to keep its NFL rights expiring in 2022. McManus said sports rights may be past the really big price escalations like those Fox paid to outbid CBS and NBC for Thursday Night Football. But he said the cost of sports rights will keep going up, because sports remain the most valuable programming assets on television.

Fox reportedly paid $550 million per season for 11 Thursday Night Football games, which McManus said amounts to deficit spending for the network. But in this case, he said, it makes sense, because even though Fox is going to lose a lot of money on Thursday, “Fox did a really smart thing by guaranteeing they’ll win primetime ratings for 11 nights.”

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