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CBS Wins Thursday Night NFL Rights

The broadcaster will get eight early-season games that will be simulcast on the NFL Network.

Chargers Bengals Football - H 2013
AP Images

CBS Sports will have Sunday afternoon and Thursday night NFL games next season.

The NFL and CBS Corp. on Wednesday announced that a coveted eight-game package will begin airing on CBS this fall, while those games also will be simulcast on NFL Network. The deal, valued at less than $300 million according to sources, includes an option for a second year.

The NFL has used the Thursday night games to grow its network. Last season, the 13-game Thursday night package averaged 8 million viewers on NFL Network, considerably fewer than turned out for the Sunday afternoon and evening games on CBS, Fox and NBC and ESPN's Monday Night Football. League officials hope that having the Thursday night games simulcast on a broadcast network will raise the games' profile among viewers. Significantly, NFL Network will retain exclusive rights to the late-season Thursday night games. The mix of games will include 14 on Thursday nights and two late-season games on Saturday.

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"NFL Network built Thursday into a night for NFL fans," NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said in a statement. "Our goal is to bring these games to more fans on broadcast television with unprecedented promotion and visibility for Thursday Night Football on CBS."

All four broadcast networks, including ABC (the only broadcaster without the ratings-dominant NFL), bid on the games, say sources. And the league was known to be seeking up to $800 million for the package. NBC Sports pays close to $1 billion for the broadcast rights to Sunday Night Football; the games have been the top-rated primetime program on TV for two years running and last season pulled in more than 21 million viewers.

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CBS Sports, which currently pays $1 billion to the NFL, had the most watched telecast of 2013 with close to 32 million tuning in for the Thanksgiving matchup between the Oakland Raiders and the Dallas Cowboys.

In a statement, CBS Sports chairman Sean McManus characterized the NFL as the "most powerful programming in television."

"To add a primetime NFL package to our successful Sunday AFC package further strengthens our position in the sports marketplace," McManus continued.

Added CBS Corp. president and CEO 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."