Apr 05, 2021

Sean McManus, chairman of CBS Sports, discusses how the company’s recent deal with the NFL positions ViacomCBS at the forefront of the future of live sports.

On March 24, ViacomCBS announced a new rights renewal that extends and expands its partnership with the NFL through the 2033 season.

As part of the deal, all games broadcast on the CBS Television Network will also be available on Paramount+. As audiences demand more live sports content, the deal also includes an extensive grant of rights across ViacomCBS networks, properties, and platforms including the capability to collaborate with the NFL to create alternate game telecasts and more.

“The beauty of this deal is that it is not just a CBS broadcasting deal—it's a ViacomCBS deal,” says Sean McManus, chairman of CBS Sports. “We have the rights to utilize whatever device is out there and whatever platform people prefer. As the television world continues to change, fans will be able to watch the NFL on CBS however they want.”

In addition, the new agreement ensures CBS Sports will remain the home of the American Football Conference (AFC), which consists of a full slate of regular season and playoff games each year, including the AFC Championship, as well as a Divisional game and a Wild Card game. ViacomCBS also secured rights to three Super Bowls, including the first of the new deal, plus, additional Wild Card games in the 2024, 2029 and 2033 seasons.

ViacomCBS and the NFL have also agreed to long-term rights extensions for ad-supported, free streamer Pluto TV, as well as CBS Sports HQ and Inside The NFL, which begins streaming exclusively on Paramount+ in 2021.

The ViacomCBS Newsroom spoke to McManus about the negotiation process, how the NFL fits into the company’s live sports offering, and why coverage of the league will drive growth on Paramount+.


Kelby Clark: What’s the significance of the expanded rights renewal for ViacomCBS, particularly on the heels of the launch of Paramount+?

Sean McManus: This deal gives us the most valuable content you could possibly have. Whether that content is on a TV screen or a phone or a streaming service or a tablet, those viewing opportunities are now available, and will be available for the next decade on ViacomCBS platforms. This particular package is so much more wide-ranging, with multiplatform rights and protections, compared to what we had in the past.

If we were to complete this deal and not have the Paramount+ rights, or not have the interactivity rights, or not have the alternate telecast rights, we could still live with the deal. But it wouldn't set us up for as much success. We don't know exactly what the traditional TV bundle or streaming products will look like in five or 10 years, but this deal means that people will be able to consume NFL on CBS games however they want.

The NFL is a foundational property for both CBS and for Paramount+. It's the most valuable and widely viewed programming in all of media, and it’s going to be an incredibly vital part of Paramount+ going forward. With live sports, you can really drive new subscribers, and you can motivate subscribers to stay on the platform.

"We're really a full service promotional operation for the NFL. They want to reach new audiences, they want to reach more diverse audiences, and there's no better way to do that than on the ViacomCBS platforms."

KC: Can you describe the negotiation process?

SM: The negotiating process was complex and all-inclusive with respect to the rights we were trying to acquire, so it took many months. A major part of our negotiation revolved around protecting the in-market exclusivity for our affiliates and owned-operated stations, as well as the added platforms.

We started out the negotiations with a first-class presentation on why ViacomCBS was such an important partner of the NFL. We wanted the NFL to understand and appreciate that being in business with us for the long-term was good for both ViacomCBS and the league. I think we sold that very effectively.

The relationship that CBS has with the NFL is six decades in the making. Over the decades, we've done more Super Bowls than any network. There’s also the Emmy Award-winning coverage and production, the announcer lineup, the way we work creatively with the league, and the scale of our audiences. We're really a full service promotional operation for the NFL. They want to reach new audiences, they want to reach more diverse audiences, and there's no better way to do that than on the ViacomCBS platforms. At the end of the day, I think both sides won in the deal.


KC: How does NFL content and programming fit into ViacomCBS’ overall live sports offering?

SM: Football is the biggest sport in the country. With so much programming now being time-shifted and DVR-ed, being able to offer our partners the chance to advertise during an NFL game is a crucial advantage.

Because of that, securing this deal was a project that involved the entire CBS Sports division, whether it was production or operations or marketing or communications or legal, digital, etc. Every department at CBS Sports contributed to this deal in very important ways. It was a team effort from top to bottom.

" [The NFL] is the most valuable and widely viewed programming in all of media, and it’s going to be an incredibly vital part of Paramount+ going forward."

KC: Why was it important to retain rights to the AFC and the AFC Championship Game as part of the package?

SM: We love the AFC, and in many ways it’s the most exciting conference now. It has the most exciting young quarterbacks. It's been on CBS since 1998, and we've showcased it very effectively. Our owned-and-operated stations and our affiliates line up well with the AFC markets. We’ve promoted and sold the package well, so we wanted to make sure that we kept it. And we wanted to make sure it was an even better package than before, with increased opportunities to get more NFC games.


KC: This year’s telecast of the Wild Card Game on Nickelodeon was a huge success. Are there plans to leverage the portfolio for NFL broadcasts in the next few years?

SM: While the Nickelodeon NFL Wild Card Game was an enormous success in every way, we're not going to be doing numerous alternative broadcasts. The exclusivity that our affiliates have for NFL football is still very important to them, as it is to our owned-and-operated stations. But if you look at all the different assets that ViacomCBS has, whether it's Nickelodeon or BET or MTV or VH1 or Comedy Central, there are plenty of opportunities for both promotion and programming going forward.



With reporting assistance from Nicole Bitette.

Image (CBS/2019) courtesy of Mary Kouw.

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