NFL on CBS is a network that broadcasts NFL games that are produced by CBS Sports, the sports division of the CBS television network in United States. The network has aired NFL game telecasts since 1956 (with exception of a break from 1994 to 1997). Since 2014, CBS has also broadcast Thursday Night Football games during the first half of the NFL season, through a production partnership with the NFL Network.
- 1 History
- 2 See also
CBS' coverage began on September 30, 1956 (the first regular season broadcast was a game between the visiting Washington Redskins against the Pittsburgh Steelers), before the 1970 AFL–NFL merger. Prior to 1968, CBS had an assigned crew for each NFL team. As an result, CBS became the first network to broadcast some NFL regular season games to selected television markets across the country. From 1970 until the end of the 1993 season, when Fox won the broadcast television contract to that particular conference, CBS aired NFL games from the National Football Conference. Since 1975, game coverage has been preceded by pre-game show The NFL Today, which features game previews, extensive analysis and interviews.
CBS's first attempts to broadcast the NFL on television were notable for there being no broadcasting contract with the league as a whole. Instead, CBS had to strike deals with individual teams to broadcast games into the teams' own markets, many of which were inherited from the defunct DuMont Television Network. Often the games would be broadcast with "split audio" – that is, a game between two franchises would have the same picture in both teams' "networks" (the visiting team's home city and affiliates of the home team's "network" beyond a 75-mile radius of the home team's television market). Each team's "network" had different announcers (usually those working in their home markets).
The New York Giants in particular were carried on the DuMont network, then CBS (airing locally on WCBS-TV, channel 2) in the early days of the NFL of the league's television broadcasts, when home games were blacked out within a 75-mile radius of New York City. Chris Schenkel was their play-by-play announcer in that early era when each team was assigned its own network voice on its regional telecasts. At the time, there were few if any true national telecasts until the NFL championship game, which was carried by NBC. Schenkel was joined by Jim McKay, later Johnny Lujack through the 1950s and the early 1960s. As Giants players retired to the broadcast booth in the early and 1960s, first Pat Summerall, then Frank Gifford took the color analyst slot next to Schenkel. As the 1970 merger of the NFL and AFL approached, CBS moved to a more generic announcer approach while Schenkel left to join ABC Sports.
From 1956 to 1959, the Baltimore Colts, Pittsburgh Steelers and Philadelphia Eagles only had their away games telecast on CBS. When these three played at home, there was no need for the usage of split audio. Instead, the away team's telecasts were produced in a simple singular audio-video feed. In 1959, 1960 and 1961, NBC had the rights to televise Colts and Steelers home games. While the game broadcasts were blacked out (as per NFL policy) in those cities, they were available to other NBC-affiliated stations.
The Chicago Bears and Chicago Cardinals only produced home telecasts for their vast network. Because of this, if the Bears played the Colts in Baltimore or the Cardinals visited Forbes Field to play the Steelers during this period, it was likely that the games were not televised by CBS (although from 1959 to 1961, they might have been shown by NBC). Meanwhile, the Cleveland Browns had their own network, part of Sports Network Incorporated (SNI) and Carling Beer.
In 1961, then-CBS affiliate WISN-TV (channel 12, now an ABC affiliate) in Milwaukee opted not to carry that year's annual telecast of The Wizard of Oz, running a Green Bay Packers football game instead. In contrast to the infamous Heidi telecast in 1968, the popularity of The Wizard of Oz as an annual television event at that time was such that the station ran the movie locally at a later date. On September 17, 1961, CBS Sports broadcast the first remote 15-minute pre-game show, the first of its kind on network sports television; Pro Football Kickoff originated from NFL stadiums around the country with a comprehensive look at all the day's games.
In 1962, the NFL followed the American Football League's (AFL) suit with its own revenue sharing plan after CBS agreed to telecast all regular season games for an annual fee of US$4.65 million. CBS also acquired the rights to the championship games for 1964 and 1965for $1.8 million per game, on April 17, 1964.
CBS executive vice president James T. Aubrey, Jr., who on May 9, 1963, warned the network's affiliates the high cost of rights for professional sports could price them off television, nevertheless in January 1964 agreed to pay $28.2 million to air National Football League games for two years, spanning 17 games each season. In an interview with The New York Times, Aubrey said regarding the package, "We know how much these games mean to the viewing audience, our affiliated stations, and the nation's advertisers". Along with obtaining the aforementioned rights to the NFL Championship Game, in April 1964, he agreed to extend the deal for another year for a total of $31.8 million.
On November 24, just two days after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, the NFL played its normal schedule of games. Commissioner Pete Rozelle said about playing the games: "It has been traditional in sports for athletes to perform in times of great personal tragedy. Football was Mr. Kennedy's game. He thrived on competition." No NFL games were telecast, since on the afternoon of the 22nd, just after the president had been pronounced dead, CBS President Frank Stanton ordered that all regular programming be pre-empted until after Kennedy was buried at his funeral procession. Normal programming, including the NFL, was replaced by non-stop news coverage, broadcast without commercials.
In 1964, CBS experimented with a "half-and-half" format for their announcers. The first half of each telecast would be called by the home teams' commentators while the second half would be done by the visitors' commentators (this practice would later be revived decades later by the NFL Network when replaying preseason games that were broadcast by local stations as opposed to a national network). Also in 1964, CBS ditched the concept of using pooled video and split audio feeds. In 1962 and 1963, CBS would provide separate audio for a telecast (for instance, if the Green Bay Packers hosted the Chicago Bears, the telecast would have the same video, Chicago area viewers watching on WBBM-TV would hear Red Grange and George Connor call the action; meanwhile, viewers in Milwaukee and other parts of Wisconsin (Green Bay itself was blacked out) would hear Ray Scott and Tony Canadeo describe the game). Ray Scott was not a fan of the separate audio concept and temporarily left CBS for a job calling a regional slate of college football games for NBC. Ultimately, CBS dumped the four-man crew and resumed the 1962–63 method for the great majority of games in 1965, 1966 and 1967.
On November 25, 1965 (Thanksgiving Day), CBS featured the first-ever color broadcast of a regular-season NFL game, the traditional Thanksgiving Day game at Detroit. It was only the second time that the network's first color mobile unit had been used (it had been used a month earlier to cover the attempted launch of an Atlas-Agena, which was to have been the rendezvous target for the Gemini 6 space mission). Only a handful of games during the rest of the season were shown in color, along with the NFL Western Conference Playoff, the NFL Championship Game, the Playoff Bowl and the Pro Bowl. In 1966, most of the network's NFL games were broadcast in color, and by 1968, all of the network's NFL telecasts were in color.
On December 29, 1965, CBS acquired the rights to the NFL regular season games in 1966 and 1967, with an option to extend the contract through 1968, for $18.8 million per year (in sharp contrast to the $14.1 million per year it paid for the rights in 1964). On February 14, 1966, the rights to the 1966 and 1967 NFL Championship Games (the Ice Bowl) were sold to CBS for $2 million per game. 1967 also marked the last year that CBS had separate commentator crews for each team for about 90% to 95% of their NFL games.
The first ever AFL-NFL World Championship Game was played on January 15, 1967. Because CBS held the rights to nationally televise NFL games and NBC had the rights to broadcast AFL games, it was decided by the newly merged league to have both of them cover that first game. Ray Scott, Jack Whitaker, Frank Gifford and Pat Summerall called the game for CBS. 39.9 million viewers would watch Bart Starr's performance in the game that earned him the MVP trophy. NBC did have some problems. The network did not return from a commercial break during halftime in time for the start of the second half; therefore, the first kickoff was stopped by the game's officials and was redone once NBC was back on the air. NBC was also forced to broadcast the game over CBS' feed and cameras (CBS received prerogative to use its feed and camera angles since the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum was home to the NFL's Rams). In other words, NBC's crew had little to no control over how the game was shot. The next three AFL-NFL World Championship Games, later renamed the Super Bowl, were then divided by the two networks: CBS televised Super Bowls II and IV while NBC covered Super Bowl III.
When CBS decided to abandon its practice of using dedicated announcing crews for particular teams in 1968, the network instituted a semi-merit system in its place, with certain crews (such as Ray Scott and Paul Christman or Jack Buck and Pat Summerall) being assigned to each week's most prominent games regardless of the participating teams.
On December 22, 1968, CBS interrupted coverage of a Western Conference championship game between the Minnesota Vikings and Baltimore Colts in order to show a broadcast from inside the Apollo 8 spacecraft, headed towards the moon (the first manned space mission to orbit the moon, and a major step towards the lunar landing the following July). The interruption began approximately three minutes before halftime of the game, and lasted 17 minutes. CBS showed highlights of the missed action (in which neither team scored) when the network returned to football coverage; nonetheless, the network received approximately 3,000 complaints after the game.
In the 1960s and early 1970s, CBS used a marching band-like composition titled "Confidence" (taken from Leon Carr's score from the 1964 off-Broadway musical The Secret Life of Walter Mitty) as the theme for their NFL broadcasts.
Monday Night games on CBS
Main article: Monday Night Games Pre-1970
During the early 1960s, NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle envisioned the possibility of playing at least one game weekly during prime timefor a greater television audience. An early bid by ABC in 1964 to have the league play a weekly game on Friday nights was abandoned, with critics charging that such telecasts would damage the attendance at high school games. Undaunted, Rozelle decided to experiment with the concept of playing on Monday night, scheduling the Green Bay Packers and Detroit Lions for a game on September 28, 1964. While the game was not televised, it drew a sellout crowd of 59,203 spectators to Tiger Stadium, the largest crowd ever to watch a professional football game in Detroit up to that point.
Two years later, Rozelle would build on this success as the NFL began a four-year experiment of playing on Monday night, scheduling one game in prime time on CBS during the 1966 and 1967 seasons, and two contests during each of the next two years. NBC followed suit in 1968 and 1969 with games involving AFL teams.
During subsequent negotiations on a television contract that would begin in 1970, Rozelle concentrated on signing a weekly Monday night deal with one of the three major networks. After sensing reluctance from both NBC and CBS in disturbing their regular programming schedules, Rozelle spoke with ABC.
Despite the network's status as the lowest-rated network, ABC was also reluctant to enter the risky venture. Only after the independent Hughes Sports Network, an entity bankrolled by reclusive businessman Howard Hughes showed interest, did ABC sign a contract for the scheduled games. Speculation was that had Rozelle signed with Hughes, many ABC affiliates would have pre-empted the network's Monday lineup in favor of the games, severely damaging potential ratings. There was even talk that one or two ABC owned-and-operated stations would have ditched the network feed to carry the games.
When the AFL and the NFL officially merged in 1970, the combined league divided its teams into the American Football Conference(AFC) and the National Football Conference (NFC). It was then decided (officially announced on January 26, 1970) that CBS would televise all NFC teams (including playoff games) while NBC would carry games from all AFC teams. For interconference games, CBS would broadcast them if the visiting team was from the NFC and NBC would carry them when the visitors were from the AFC. This was in line with the NFL television blackout rules of the time, meaning that every televised game of a local NFL team would be on the same channel (at the time, home games were banned from local television regardless of sell-out status, while road games are required to be aired in the teams' primary media markets, and select neighboring markets as well, even if it is not the most popular team in the market). The two networks also divided up broadcast rights to the Super Bowl on a yearly rotation.
By 1971, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) introduced the Prime Time Access Rule, which freed local network affiliates in the top 50 markets (in practice, the entire network) to take a half-hour of prime time from the networks on Mondays through Saturdays and one full hour on Sundays. Because nearly all affiliates found production costs for the FCC's intended goal of increased public affairsprogramming very high and the ratings (and by association, advertising revenues) low, making it mostly unprofitable, the FCC created an exception for network-authored news and public affairs. After a six-month hiatus in late 1971, CBS would find a prime place for 60 Minutesin a portion of that displaced time, 6:00 to 7:00 p.m. (Eastern; 5:00 to 6:00 Central Time) on Sundays, in January 1972. This proved somewhat less than satisfactory, however, because in order to accommodate CBS' telecasts of late afternoon National Football League games, 60 Minutes went on hiatus during the fall from 1972 to 1975 (and the summer of 1972). This took place because football telecasts were protected contractually from interruptions in the wake of the infamous "Heidi Game" incident on NBC in November 1968.
Due largely to CBS' live broadcast of NFL games, as well as other sports events aired by the network that run past their scheduled end time, 60 Minutes sometimes does not start until after 7:00 p.m. Eastern Time, with the program starting right after the conclusion of game coverage (however, on the West Coast, because the actual end of the live games is much earlier in the afternoon in comparison to the Eastern and Central Time Zones, 60 Minutes is always able to start at its normal 7:00 p.m. Pacific start time, leaving affiliates free to broadcast local newscasts, the CBS Evening News, and other local or syndicated programming leading up to 60 Minutes). The program's success has also led CBS Sports to schedule events leading into 60 Minutes and the rest of the network's primetime lineup, causing (again, except on the West Coast) the pre-emptions of the Sunday editions of the CBS Evening News and affiliates' local newscasts.
On January 16, 1972, the Dallas Cowboys defeated the Miami Dolphins 24–3 in Super Bowl VI in New Orleans. The CBS telecast had an estimated household viewership of 27,450,000 homes, the highest-rated single-day telecast ever at the time. Although Tulane Stadiumwas sold out for the game, unconditional blackout rules in the NFL prohibited the live telecast from being shown in the New Orleans market. This would be the last Super Bowl to be blacked out in the television market in which the game was played. The following year, the NFL allowed Super Bowl VII to be televised live in the host city (Los Angeles) when all tickets were sold. In 1973, the NFL changed its blackout policy to allow games to be broadcast in the home team's market if tickets are sold out 72 hours in advance (all Super Bowls since the second have sold out, as it is the main event on the NFL schedule, and there is high demand for Super Bowl tickets).
On November 4, 1973, local San Francisco CBS affiliate KPIX (now an owned-and-operated station of the network) experimented with a "simulcast" in which the station kept switching back and forth between the network's broadcasts of a San Francisco 49ers game (against the Detroit Lions) and an Oakland Raiders game (against the New York Giants) that were being played at the same time, with frequent cuts to studio host Barry Tompkins. The station received many complaints from viewers, however, and the experiment was not repeated. This resulted in the NFL instituting new rules for markets that had two teams, which basically state that teams televised in two markets must play their games at different times in the day or week, and one of the teams must be on the road (for example an NFL schedule for a given week in markets with two team franchises might look like this: Oakland at Kansas City, 1:00 p.m.; New York Giants at Philadelphia, 1:00 p.m.; San Diego at San Francisco, 4:15 p.m.; and New England at New York Jets, 8:00 p.m.).
During the October 13, 1974, New Orleans Saints–Denver Broncos game, the broadcasting duo of play-by-play announcer Don Criquiand color commentator Irv Cross was supplemented by the contributions of the first woman ever on an NFL telecast, Jane Chastain. While providing limited commentary, Chastain was used on an irregular basis over the rest of the season.
CBS' 1976 telecast of Super Bowl X between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Dallas Cowboys was viewed by an estimated 80 million people, the largest television audience in history at the time. CBS' telecast featured play-by-play announcer Pat Summerall (calling his first Super Bowl in that role) and color commentator Tom Brookshier. Towards the end of the game, Hank Stram took over for Brookshier, who had left the booth to head down to the locker room area to conduct the postgame interviews with the winning team.
By 1975, CBS used several themes (technically, CBS had different opening songs and graphics per crew) to open their broadcasts, ranging from David Shire's "Manhattan Skyline" from the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack to "Fly, Robin, Fly" by the Silver Convention.
On October 12, 1976, Commissioner Pete Rozelle negotiated contracts with the three television networks to televise all NFL regular-season and postseason games, as well as selected preseason games, for four years beginning with the 1978 season. ABC was awarded yearly rights to 16 Monday night games, four prime time games, the AFC-NFC Pro Bowl, and the Hall of Fame Games. CBS received the rights to all NFC regular season and postseason games (except those in the ABC package) and to Super Bowls XIV and XVI. NBC received the rights to all AFC regular season and postseason games (except those in the ABC package) and to Super Bowls XIII and XV. Industry sources considered it the largest single television package ever negotiated.
At the height of the disco fad, from 1977 to 1979, CBS used Meco's "Star Wars Theme/Cantina Band," a disco arrangement of John Williams's theme from Star Wars, as a musical theme.
On January 15, 1978, the Dallas Cowboys defeated the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl XII in front of the largest audience ever to watch a sporting event. CBS scored a 47.2/67 national household rating/share, the highest-rated Super Bowl to date.
The NFL Today debuts
In 1975, CBS debuted The NFL Today, a pre-game show originally hosted by journalist Brent Musburger and former NFL player Irv Cross, with former Miss America Phyllis George serving as one of the reporters. Jimmy Snyder, nicknamed "The Greek", joined the program in 1976. Snyder was dismissed by CBS Sports at the end of the 1987 season, one day after making comments about racial differences among NFL players on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day in January 1988. Phyllis George was replaced by Jayne Kennedy (who was crowned Miss Ohio USA in 1970) for the 1978 season, only for Kennedy to depart at the end of the following season. George would return in 1980 and stay on through the 1983 season; she was replaced by Charlsie Cantey. In 1979, the first year that the Sports Emmy Awards were awarded to sportscasts, The NFL Today was among the recipients.
In 1980, CBS, with a record bid of US$12 million, was awarded the national radio rights to broadcast 26 NFL regular season games, including Monday Night Football, and all ten postseason games through the 1983 season. Starting with the 1980 season, CBS frequently used the beginning guitar riff of Heart's "Crazy on You" for commercial break tosses. Television ratings for season and playoff broadcasts in 1980 were the second-best in NFL history, trailing only the combined ratings of the 1976 season. All three networks posted gains, and NBC's 15.0 rating was its best ever. CBS and ABC had also experienced their best NFL ratings since 1977, with 15.3 and 20.8 ratings, respectively. CBS Radio reported a record audience of 7 million listeners for Monday night and special games.
In 1981, ABC and CBS set all-time ratings highs, with ABC finishing the season with a 21.7 rating and CBS with a 17.5 rating; NBC was down slightly to 13.9. On October 18, 1981, Game 5 of the National League Championship Series between the Los Angeles Dodgers and Montreal Expos, which was supposed to be televised on NBC that Sunday afternoon, was postponed due to snow. The cancellation of that game allowed CBS to achieve record breaking television viewership levels for a regular-season professional football broadcast. It was rated as the most watched afternoon of regular-season NFL football broadcasts on a single network in television history.
In 1981, CBS introduced a new opening theme for the NFL games, a peppy, fanfare-styled theme that remained in use through the 1985 season. The patriotic-style opening title sequence showed the Stars and Stripes of the U.S. flag morphing into the words "National Football League." For the network's coverage of Super Bowl XVI at the end of that season, CBS' theme music eventually became the theme for CBS Sports Saturday/Sunday. The music itself, could be considered a hybrid of the theme used for The NFL Today at the time and the original theme for its college basketball broadcast; CBS would use this particular theme again at least for the NFC Championship Game at the end of the 1982 season.
Going into the 1981 NFL season, CBS Sports executives decided that John Madden, who had joined the network in 1979 and had worked with Frank Glieber and Gary Bender (Pat Summerall and Madden were first teamed on a November 25, 1979 broadcast of a Minnesota Vikings–Tampa Bay Buccaneers game) in his first two years, was going to be their star NFL color commentator – however, they had trouble figuring out who was going to be his play-by-play partner. At the time CBS had reshuffled their #1 team lineup as Summerall's longtime broadcast partner Tom Brookshier was moved into a play-by-play role, and it was not immediately clear if Summerall was going to keep his position or if #2 play-by-play man Vin Scully, whose contract was nearing expiration, was going to be promoted to take over. CBS elected to give both Summerall and Scully chances to work with Madden. Scully worked with Madden for four games in September while Summerall was busy covering the U.S. Open tennis tournament for CBS. Summerall then worked with Madden for four October games as Scully called Major League Baseball's National League Championship Series and World Series for the Los Angeles Dodgers Radio Network and CBS Radio respectively.
After the eighth week of the NFL season, CBS Sports executives decided that the laconic, baritone-voiced Summerall's style was more in tune with the lively, verbose Madden than the elegant, poetic Scully. As a consolation prize, CBS Sports gave Scully the "B" team assignment and the right to call the NFC Championship Game telecast with Hank Stram. Meanwhile, Pat Summerall called that game on CBS Radio with Jack Buck while John Madden prepared to do the Super Bowl XVI with Summerall in Pontiac, Michigan. Vin Scully reportedly was not happy about the demotion as well as (in his eyes) having his intelligence be insulted (at least, according to CBS Sports producer Terry O'Neil in the book The Game Behind the Game). As a result, Scully bolted to NBC (where he started a seven-year run as their lead Major League Baseball announcer) as soon as his contract with CBS was up.
On January 24, 1982, CBS Sports' broadcast of Super Bowl XVI – in which the San Francisco 49ers (led by quarterback Joe Montana) defeated the Cincinnati Bengals, 26–21 – became the highest rated Super Bowl of all time, with a 49.1 rating/73 share. Summerall and Madden called their first Super Bowl together as they went on to become one of the most popular NFL announcing teams ever. During the Super Bowl XVI telecast, the telestrator made its major network debut, which the network introduced as the "CBS Chalkboard" during their sports coverage. Madden utilized the device effectively to diagram football plays on-air to viewers. The telestrator is generally credited with popularizing the use of "telestration" during sports commentary.
In 1982, the NFL signed a five-year contract with the three television networks (ABC, CBS and NBC) to televise all NFL regular season and postseason games starting with the 1982 season. By this particular time, CBS decided that instead of using the regular CBS Sports typeface of that period (a variant of Franklin Gothic), that it would instead use the Serifa typeface that began to be used a few months earlier on CBS News programs for their title graphics and lower-thirds. During the 1982 season, the NFL allowed CBS to rebroadcast Super Bowl XVI during the first Sunday of the strike. CBS also rebroadcast their most recent Super Bowl (XXI) telecast during the 1987strike. Also during the 1982 strike, CBS' NCAA football contract required the network to show four Division III games; the network initially intended to show those games on Saturday afternoons, with the broadcasts being received only in markets that were interested in carrying them. However, with no NFL games to show on October 3, 1982 (on what would have been Week 5 of the NFL season) due to the strike, CBS decided to show all of its NCAA Division III games on a single Sunday afternoon in front of a mass audience. CBS also used their regular NFL crews (Pat Summerall and John Madden at Wittenberg–Baldwin–Wallace, Tom Brookshier and Wayne Walker at West Georgia–Millsaps, Tim Ryan and Johnny Morris at Wisconsin–Oshkosh – Wisconsin–Stout, and Dick Stockton and Roger Staubachat San Diego–Occidental) and aired The NFL Today instead of using their regular college football broadcasters.
In May 1985, shortly after calling after working the 17th hole at the Masters and calling Game 1 of the NBA Playoff series between Portland Trail Blazers and Los Angeles Lakers, play-by-play announcer Frank Glieber died of a heart attack. Tom Brookshier, who previously served as Summerall's color commentator prior to Madden, replaced Glieber in the NFL on CBS broadcast booth. For the 1985 season, the NFL showed a ratings increase on all three networks for the season, with viewership of CBS' telecasts increasing by 10%, NBC telecasts by 4%, and ABC telecasts by 16%.
Beginning in Week 4 of the 1986 season, CBS adapted a theme for its game broadcast, an intense, kinetic, synthesizer-laced theme that has affectionately been referred to as "Pots and Pans" (because of the background notes that often resembled the banging of those particular cooking objects). In 1989, the "Pots and Pans" theme was revamped to give it a more smooth, electronic style. This theme was also known for integrating the play-by-play announcer's voice-over introduction into the theme, it integrated three voice-over segments, one for the visiting team, home team and game storyline to set the latter element into the broadcast; this practice was common with CBS Sports' themes of the 1980s.
CBS' broadcast of Super Bowl XXI (at the end of the 1986 season) was the first NFL game to be broadcast in Dolby Surround sound and in stereo. The postgame show was supposed to feature the song "One Shining Moment", but due to the extended length of the postgame interviews, CBS did not play it. The lyrics to the song, which is now played at the end of the network's NCAA Men's Division I Basketball Championship coverage, were ultimately changed from "the ball is kicked" to "the ball is tipped". CBS also debuted the theme music (composed by Lloyd Landesman) that ultimately became the theme used for CBS' college football coverage (which was also the case for the theme CBS used from 1984 to 1986 after debuting it for Super Bowl XVIII) for the 1987 season (this theme was actually loosely based on the Pots and Pans theme).
At the NFL's annual meeting in Maui, Hawaii on March 15, 1987, Commissioner Pete Rozelle and Broadcast Committee Chairman Art Modell announced new three-year television contracts with ABC, CBS, and NBC, effective with the 1987 season. Beginning in 1987, CBS started broadcasting NFL games in stereo. On December 8, 1987, Cathy Barreto became the first woman to direct an NFL game at the network television level for the Minnesota Vikings–Detroit Lions telecast. On April 18, 1989, the NFL and CBS Radio jointly announced agreement extending CBS' radio broadcast rights to an annual 40-game package through the 1994 season.
For the Thanksgiving game broadcasts on November 23, 1989, John Madden awarded the first "Turkey Leg Award", for the annual game's most valuable player. Reggie White of the Philadelphia Eagles was the first recipient of the honor for his part in what would become known as Bounty Bowl I. The gesture was seen mostly as a humorous gimmick relating to Madden's famous multi-legged turkeys served on Thanksgiving. Since then, however, the award has gained subtle notoriety, and currently, each year an MVP has been chosen for both the CBS and Fox games. When CBS returned to the NFL in 1998, the network introduced their own award, the "All-Iron Award."
For CBS' coverage of Super Bowl XXIV at the end of the 1989 season, CBS introduced a brand new theme for its NFL broadcasts, using a considerably more traditional and standard (but still peppy and bombastic) theme than the one used the previous four seasons; the theme was used until the 1991 NFC Championship Game.
On March 12, 1990, at the NFL's annual meeting in Orlando, Florida, the league ratified new four-year television agreements with existing partners ABC, CBS and NBC, as well as newly struck cable agreements with ESPN and TNT, to take effect with the 1990–1993 seasons. The contracts involving the four networks totaled US$3.6 billion, the largest in television history.
On September 9, 1990, The NFL Today overhauled its talent lineup, consisting of Greg Gumbel, Terry Bradshaw, Pat O'Brien and Lesley Visser. Gumbel and Bradshaw replaced Brent Musburger, who was fired by CBS on April 1, 1990, and Irv Cross, who was demoted to the position of game analyst. During the 1990 season, Pat Summerall was hospitalized after vomiting on a plane during a flight after a Bears–Redskins game, and was out for a considerable amount of time. While Verne Lundquist replaced Summerall on games with Madden, Jack Buck (who was at CBS during the time as the network's lead Major League Baseball announcer) was added as a regular NFL broadcaster to fill-in.
At Super Bowl XXVI, Lesley Visser became the first female sportscaster to preside over the Vince Lombardi Trophy presentation ceremony. The network's telecast of Super Bowl XXVI on January 26, 1992 was seen by more than 123 million viewers nationally, second only to the 127 million that viewed Super Bowl XX. The ongoing 1990 television contract gave CBS rights to Super Bowl XXVI instead of Super Bowl XXVII, which was in the network's rotation of the champion game. The NFL swapped the years in which CBS and NBC held rights to the Super Bowl in an effort to give CBS enough lead-in programming for the upcoming 1992 Winter Olympics that were set to begin two weeks later. For this game, CBS debuted a new network-wide red, white and blue graphics package as well as a new theme song (composed by Frankie Vinci) for its NFL coverage that replaced the one CBS debuted for their coverage of Super Bowl XXIV two years earlier. The package lasted until the end of 1995, after which CBS discarded it in favor of an orange and yellow color scheme for its sports graphics. The new music lasted until CBS lost the NFL rights at the end of the 1993 season, but continued to be used by CBS Radio until 2002. Several remixed versions of the 1993 theme were used upon the return of the NFL to CBS until the end of the 2002 season, when CBS replaced its entire NFL music package with one composed by E.S. Posthumus.
In September 1993, The NFL Today celebrated its 19th season as a half-hour pre-game show. It held the distinction of being the highest-rated program in its time slot for 18 years, longer than any other program on television.
Losing the NFL to Fox (1994–1997)
See also: 1994 United States broadcast TV realignment and Repercussions of the 1994 United States broadcast TV realignment
The steady downturn in programming fortunes that CBS experienced during the tenure of network president Laurence Tisch would precipitate in 1993. As the television contracts for both NFL conferences and for the Sunday and Monday prime time football packages came up for renewal, Fox – which made a failed attempt at acquiring the Monday Night Football package six years earlier – made an aggressive move to acquire the league television rights. Knowing that it would likely need to bid considerably more than the incumbent networks to acquire a piece of the package, Fox placed a then-record bid of US$1.58 billion for the four-year contract for the broadcast rights to the National Football Conference, significantly exceeding CBS' bid of $290 million for each year of the contract. The NFC was considered the more desirable conference at the time due to its presence in most of the largest U.S. markets, such as New York City, Chicago and Philadelphia.
The NFL accepted Fox's bid on December 18, 1993, giving that network rights to televise NFC regular season and playoff games effective with the 1994 season, as well as the exclusive U.S. television rights to Super Bowl XXXI (held in 1997) under the initial contract. This stripped CBS of National Football League telecasts following the 1993 season after 38 years, resulting in CBS not broadcasting any NFL games for the next four years. The Fox Broadcasting Company had only debuted seven years earlier and did not have an existing sports division; however it began building its own coverage by hiring many former CBS personalities (such as Pat Summerall, John Madden, James Brown, Terry Bradshaw, Dick Stockton and Matt Millen), management and production personnel.
CBS televised its last game as the rights holder of the National Football Conference package on January 23, 1994 when the Dallas Cowboys defeated the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC Championship Game, 38–21. Before signing off one last time, CBS aired a photo montage of their most memorable moments during their 38 years of covering the NFL set to the song "After the Sunrise" by Yanni.
The acquisition of NFL rights by Fox made that network a major player in American television by giving it many new viewers (and affiliates) and a platform to advertise its other programs. In the meantime, CBS lost several affiliates, and ratings for its other programming languished. On May 23, 1994, News Corporation, then parent of Fox, struck an alliance with New World Communications, by now a key ownership group with several VHF affiliates of the three established major networks – most of which were CBS affiliates, almost all of which were located in NFC markets – and wary of a CBS without football. Through the deal, in which Fox purchased a 20% interest in New World, the company signed an agreement to affiliate the majority of its stations (including those that New World was in the process of acquiring from Argyle Communications and Citicasters) with Fox; twelve of New World's stations began switching their affiliations to Foxbeginning in September 1994 and continuing through September 1996.
To this day, CBS admits that it has never fully recovered from the loss of key affiliates through the New World-Fox deal. It took a particularly severe hit in Atlanta, Detroit and Milwaukee, as the network found itself on the verge of having to import the signals of nearby affiliates via cable and satellite after being turned down for affiliation deals by other major network stations in those markets. Ultimately, the network was relegated to UHF stations with marginal signals in certain areas within their markets (because of satellite television, the NFL Sunday Ticket in local markets, and rules of the time, satellite subscribers were required to use antennas to pick up local affiliates). CBS purchased one of these stations, WWJ-TV (channel 62), only days before its longtime Detroit affiliate, WJBK (channel 2), was set to switch to Fox. The ratings impact in these three markets was significant; the former CBS affiliates were all considered to be ratings contenders, especially during the NFL season. With CBS ending up on UHF stations that had virtually no significant history as a former Fox or first-tier independent station (or former Big Three affiliate for that matter), ratings for CBS programming in these markets declined significantly. In Milwaukee, for instance, WITI (channel 6)'s switch from CBS to Fox resulted in several of CBS' remaining sports properties, most notably the Daytona 500, not being available to cable subscribers for much of 1995 until Weigel Broadcasting signed carriage agreements with providers to add new CBS station WDJT-TV (channel 58).
CBS apparently underestimated the value of its rights with respect to its advertising revenues and to its promotional opportunities for other network programs. The vast resources of Fox founder Rupert Murdoch allowed that network to grow quickly, primarily to the detriment of CBS. The loss of the NFL came in part because CBS Sports suddenly went into cost-cutting mode in the wake of its money-bleeding, $1 billion deal with Major League Baseball (1990–1993). The network had already developed a stodgy and overly budgeted image under Laurence Tisch, who had become chief executive officer of CBS in 1985. Tisch was already notorious for having made deep cuts at the network's news division and for selling off major portions of the company (such as the 1988 sale of its Columbia Records division to Sony). When CBS lost the NFL to Fox, the "Tiffany Network" struggled to compete in the ratings with a slate of programming whose audiences skewed older than programs broadcast by the other networks, even though the network still finished ahead of Fox, whose programming at the time of the NFL deal was almost exclusively limited to primetime and children's programming. One of the few bright spots in terms of ratings and audience demographics for CBS in the Tisch era, the Late Show with David Letterman (which often dominated The Tonight Show with Jay Leno in its first two years) saw its ratings decline in large part due to the affiliation switches, at times even finishing third behind Night line on ABC.
Attempts at replacement programming
The replacement programming on Sunday afternoons in the fall of 1994 and 1995 involved mostly a package of encore made-for-TV movies, which were targeted towards women in an attempt to counterprogram NBC and Fox. However, they made very little headway (with some affiliates forgoing the movie package altogether and instead airing either, local and/or religious programs and infomercials) and by 1996, CBS picked up additional NASCAR Winston Cup, Busch Series and Craftsman Truck races in order to compete in some form.
One of the often cited reasons for the Canadian Football League's failed American experiment, and part of the reason why the CFL fell behind the NFL in terms of quality players, was the state of the league's American television contract. The league, which had held a U.S. network television contract in the 1950s and again briefly in 1982, was then being carried on ESPN2, at the time a nascent channel devoted to extreme sports that was not nearly as widely available as its parent network and only carried a limited number of the league's games (with ESPN itself airing some games to fill in airtime available due to the 1994 Major League Baseball strike, as well as the Grey Cup on tape delay). It was not until after the 1995 season that the CFL, mainly through the action of its American franchises, approached CBS to see if it could get coverage. However, by the time negotiations started, the CFL had decided to fold or relocate all of its American franchises, and the negotiations with CBS accordingly fell through. It would not be until several years later that the CFL reached a television contract in the United States, on a much smaller network (America One). Then in 1996, CBS added college football gamesfeaturing the Southeastern and Big East conferences on Saturday afternoons. It was the beginning of a rebuilding process that would eventually lead to the return of the NFL to the network.
The NFL returns
In November 1996, Sean McManus was named President of CBS Sports, and would lead CBS' efforts in re-acquiring broadcast rights to the NFL. On January 12, 1998, CBS agreed to a contract with the NFL to broadcast American Football Conference games effective with the 1998 season (taking over the rights from NBC), paying $4 billion over eight years ($500 million per season). The last year NBC had rights to the AFC saw the Denver Broncos, an original AFL team, defeat the Green Bay Packers in Super Bowl XXXII, which aired on NBC and ended a 13-year drought against the NFC in the Super Bowl. Around the time CBS took over the rights to the AFC saw the trend of the 1980s and 1990s reverse, in that the AFC became the dominant conference over the NFC (1998 also saw the Broncos win the Super Bowl). The New England Patriots dynasty in the 2000s in the only AFC-only top-ten market also contributed to the ratings surge. In fact, the primary stations for both the Broncos and Patriots are the same – KCNC-TV in Denver, and WBZ-TV in Boston, prior to the two stations switching to CBS in 1995 through the network's affiliation deal with Westinghouse – as when NBC carried the AFC (KUSA and WHDH-TV carried those teams' games from 1995 to 1998).
In addition, the current AFC deal also saw CBS indirectly acquire rights to air games played by the Pittsburgh Steelers, which air locally on KDKA-TV (which was a CBS O&O by the time NFL rights were re-acquired and has long been one of CBS's strongest stations) and often get the highest television ratings for an NFL franchise due to the team's rabid fanbase on a national level. Coincidentally, before the AFL–NFL merger (when the Steelers went to the AFC voluntarily to balance out the number of teams between conferences), Steelers road games had aired on KDKA-TV as part of the network's deal to air NFL games, while home games could not be televised at all during this period, even if they did sell out tickets.
After acquiring the new package, CBS Sports then named former NFL Today host Greg Gumbel, as their lead play-by-play announcer (Gumbel had moved to NBC Sports, where he worked from 1994 to 1998 after CBS lost the NFL to Fox). Phil Simms (who at the time, was at NBC as part of the lead announcing team alongside Dick Enberg and Paul Maguire) was hired as the lead color commentator. On September 6, 1998, after 1,687 days since the last broadcast of The NFL Today, host Jim Nantz welcomed back viewers to CBS for its coverage of the National Football League.
Given the challenge of making its coverage of the American Football Conference different from that of NBC, CBS passed over longtime NBC veterans Charlie Jones and Bob Trumpy in favor of newcomers such as Ian Eagle and Steve Tasker. According to CBS Sports executive producer Terry Ewert, "We wanted to forge our own way and go in a different direction. We wanted to make decisions on a new way of looking at things." In one stark difference from NBC, CBS used a score and clock graphic for its NFL games that was constant during the game broadcasts outside of break tosses, a la the FoxBox. CBS' contribution was dubbed the EyeBox.
On November 8, 1998, CBS televised the first NFL game to be broadcast in high-definition, between the New York Jets and Buffalo Billsat Giants Stadium. It was also the first time two Heisman Trophy winning quarterbacks started against each other in the NFL (Vinny Testaverde for the Jets and Doug Flutie for the Bills).
On January 28, 2001, CBS Sports, Core Digital and Princeton Video Image introduced state-of-the-art, three-dimensional replay technology called "EyeVision" for its coverage of Super Bowl XXXV in Tampa (at Raymond James Stadium). The game, CBS Sports' first Super Bowl broadcast since 1992, drew 131.2 million viewers for the Baltimore Ravens win over the New York Giants. As a result, Super Bowl XXXV was the most watched television program that year. Play-by-play announcer Greg Gumbel became the first African-American announcer to call a major sports championship; he was joined in the broadcast booth with Phil Simms. Both of the Ravens' Super Bowl championships to date have been on CBS; the CBS-owned station in Baltimore, WJZ-TV, had been, as an ABC affiliate, one of the strongest TV stations for ABC Monday Night Football for most of the 1980s and early 1990s, due to Baltimore's previous NFL team, the Colts' move to Indianapolis.
The 2001–02 NFL playoffs marked the first time that the league scheduled prime time playoff games for the first two rounds, in an attempt to attract more viewers. AFC wild card and divisional playoff games were moved from 12:30 and 4:00 p.m. Eastern Time to 4:30 and 8:00 p.m., respectively. As a result, the league abandoned its practice of scheduling playoff games held mainly in colder, northern regions for daylight hours only; any stadium, regardless of evening January temperatures, could host prime time playoff games.
In 2004, Jim Nantz and Phill Simms swapped roles on the network's NFL broadcasts.
The next group of broadcast contracts, which began with the 2006–07 season, resulted in a sizeable increase in total rights fees. Both Fox and CBS renewed their Sunday afternoon broadcast packages through 2011, in both cases with modest increases. On February 6, 2006, CBS Sports announced the return of James Brown, who left CBS eleven years earlier to become studio host of Fox NFL Sunday, to the network as the host of The NFL Today. Greg Gumbel moved back to play-by-play, teaming with Dan Dierdorf. CBS decided to not feature sideline reports for the 2006 regular season. However, the network did use Lesley Visser, Sam Ryan, Solomon Wilcots and Steve Tasker to report from the sidelines and around the stadium for its telecast of Super Bowl XLI.
In 2006, CBS' coverage of the AFC Championship Game earned a 28.1 rating, which topped the season premiere of American Idol on Fox. Its Super Bowl XLI broadcast drew the third largest television audience in history, finishing behind only its broadcast of the M*A*S*Hfinale ("Goodbye, Farewell and Amen") in 1983 and NBC's broadcast of Super Bowl XXX (Dallas and Pittsburgh) from 1996. Super Bowl XLI was the second most watched Super Bowl broadcast of all-time, averaging 93.1 million viewers.
For the 2007 season, CBS announced the advent of "CBS Eye-lert," a service that allows viewers to be notified via e-mail and text message when the start time of a program will be delayed. The "Eye-lert" was eventually extended on-air to a banner graphic that appears during the prime time lineup within sports broadcasts and segments of delayed regularly scheduled evening programs.
As late as 2006, CBS aired only three of its NFL games in high-definition each week, the same number of games it had aired for the past few seasons. The other networks that held rights to broadcast NFL games – NBC, NFL Network and ESPN – broadcast all of their games in high definition, and Fox broadcast up to six in HD. Because of this, some fans accused CBS of being "cheap." Beginning with the 2007 season, CBS began airing five of the Sunday games in high definition television on doubleheader weeks, and six on singleheader weeks.
Former CBS Sports Executive Vice President Tony Petitti (who left CBS in April 2008 to become the head of the MLB Network) claimed the network would probably air all of its NFL games in high definition by 2009. When asked about the move, Petitti commented that CBS was focused on building a new studio for The NFL Today pre-game show. However, another CBS executive had previously indicatedthat, because CBS was an "early adopter" with its first HD game in 1998, it is already "at capacity" and would have to replace newly purchased equipment in its network center with even more expensive equipment. However, CBS did carry its entire slate of games in 2009 in HD, though a few non-essential camera positions for some games (mainly used only in analysis situations) continued to be shot in 4:3 SD.
Beginning with the 2013 season, CBS Sports switched to a 16:9 full widescreen presentation, which began requiring the use of the #10 Active Format Description tag to present the games in a letterboxed widescreen format for viewers watching on cable television through 4:3 television sets.
With an average U.S. audience of 106.5 million viewers, Super Bowl XLIV on CBS was, at the time, the most-watched Super Bowl telecast in the championship game's history as well as the most-watched program of any kind in American television history, beating the record previously set 27 years earlier by the final episode of M*A*S*H, which was watched by 105.97 million viewers. The game telecast drew an overnight national Nielsen rating of 46.4 with a 68 share, the highest for a Super Bowl since Super Bowl XX in 1986; and drew a 56.3 rating in New Orleans and a 54.2 rating in Indianapolis, first and fourth respectively among local markets. Super Bowl XLV surpassed the record a year later and was itself topped by Super Bowl XLVI in 2012.
On November 28, 2010, CBS broadcast its 5,000th NFL game. The game in question involved the Miami Dolphins visiting the Oakland Raiders, with Gus Johnson and Steve Tasker calling play-by-play.
On December 14, 2011, NFL, along with Fox, CBS, and NBC announced a 9 year extension of the league's rights deal with all three networks to the end of the 2022 season. The extended contract includes the continued rotation of the Super Bowl yearly among the 3 networks, meaning CBS would air Super Bowls 47 (2013), 50 (2016), 53 (2019), and 56 (2022).
For the 2012 NFL season, CBS began providing Spanish play-by-play commentary of all game broadcasts via a secondary audio program feed. Also in 2012, to further prevent issues surrounding late games from delaying prime-time programming on the east coast (also influenced by other recent changes slowing the pace of games, such as video reviews and the kickoff for late games being moved from 4:15 to 4:25 p.m. Eastern Time), CBS began to move the start of its prime-time schedule to 7:30 p.m. on weeks that the network carries a 4:25 p.m. game.
Super Bowl XLVII was broadcast for free on the internet on the host network's website, in this case CBS Sports. CBS charged an average of $4 million for a 30-second commercial during the game, the highest rate for any Super Bowl. According to Nielsen, Super Bowl 47 was watched by an estimated average total audience of 108.69 million U.S. viewers, with a record 164.1 million tuning into at least six minutes of the game.
The late-afternoon regional games held on December 1, 2013 (Denver–Kansas City and Cincinnati–San Diego) drew a 16.7 household rating, a 29 share, and 28.106 million viewers from 4:25 to 7:47 p.m. Eastern Time.
2014–present: Thursday Night games
In January 2014, reports surfaced that the NFL was shopping a selection of up to eight games from its Thursday Night Football package to other broadcasters, including the league's existing broadcast partners, along with Turner Sports. While the league was seeking either a cable or broadcast outlet, they were strongly considering the latter.
On February 5, 2014, it was announced that CBS would air 8, early-season Thursday Night games during the 2014 NFL season in simulcast with NFL Network, with the remainder airing on NFL Network exclusively. CBS's team of Jim Nantz and Phil Simms handled commentary for all of the games, and CBS Sports produces all of the games in the package, including those on NFL Network, which will be produced in the manner of CBS telecasts. As a part of the contract, CBS was also allowed to broadcast a Saturday game in Week 16 for the first time since 2005.
On January 18, 2015, NFL announced that CBS and NFL Network would again partner, with the same broadcast schedule, during the 2015 NFL season. The contract is again only for 1 year, while CBS's Sunday contract is 12 years long. CBS also partnered with Yahoo! Sports during the 2015 season, with Yahoo live streaming a CBS-produced game around the globe. The game was not available on CBS except in the local markets of the teams.