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In a surprise move, NFL Network Thursday simulcasts go to CBS

In what’s considered to be an unexpected development, CBS has won the rights to simulcast the first eight NFL Network Thursday night games next season. The network outbid Fox, ESPN, and NBC.

NFL on CBS announcers Jim Nantz and Phil Simms will pull double duty and call 14 NFL contests on Thursday nights in addition to their regular Sunday matchups.
Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images

It’s no surprise that the NFL pitched these early-season contests to its broadcast partners. Though Thursday Night Football ratings are up this year over last year, ratings are way below all other NFL broadcasts. The league announced it was looking to simulcast at least eight early matchups to bolster awareness of TNF.

Because NFL Network is not as widely available as the other outlets, CBS, Fox, NBC, and ESPN, the thinking was that NFL fans were forgetting that there was a game on Thursday nights. By placing the first eight on a broadcast network, the idea was that a viewing pattern would develop, and then once the contests were back on NFL Network exclusively in Week 10, viewers would be hooked and would seek the remaining games out, even if it meant paying for a sports tier.

The surprise is that the network that won the bid is the one with the strongest Thursday night ratings. It was thought that CBS was the least in need of a ratings boost on Thursdays and would have the most to lose by delaying its regular Thursday night programming until November. NBC and Fox, which are both struggling on Thursdays, seemed like more likely candidates.

Nevertheless, it’s CBS which will not only simultaneously air the contests, but will also produce them and use its lead announcers, Jim Nantz and Phil Simms, even after CBS is done with its simulcasts. That means Nantz and Simms will call two games a week for 14 weeks of the 17-week season.

However, they won’t be available for two Saturday contests that are part of NFL Network’s exclusive package. The rumor is Brad Nessler and Mike Mayock may do them since they’re the two being displaced on Thursdays by Nantz and Simms, and no CBS announcing teams would be available anyway.

These contests will air locally on KPIX channel 5 which has local rights to ESPN’s Monday night matchups featuring the 49ers or Raiders. KGO channel 7 has been airing Thursday night contests when our two local squads are involved. Uh oh, that could be confusing.

NFL Network will handle pregame, halftime, and postgame telecasts.

The deal only calls for this arrangement to take place for the 2014 season, but could be extended for 2015 if the NFL still feels it needs the early exposure.

The eight contests not on CBS will continue to be distributed to broadcast stations in the two markets where the participating teams play.

So if you’ve been a naughty football fan and been forgetting there were games on Thursdays, now you have no excuse. Tune in to CBS on Thursdays or you’ll have Jim Nantz to answer to.

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