CBS boss Les Moonves confirms rising NFL prices


He didn’t get into specifics, such as the 60% average hike cited by Sports Business Daily, but CBS Corporation CEO Les Moonves told the UBS 39th Annual Global Media and Communications Conference in New York that NFL football is an “unbelievable property.” So, he acknowledged, “the price of poker is going up.”

Specifically, Moonves was asked whether he’d be willing to do without the NFL if the bidding for the contract renewal was too aggressive. “You know, the NFL is an unbelievable property. They’re great partners. We’ve had an outstanding relationship with them. Their product is better than any other product that’s out there. You see it in the ratings. Even a bad football game out-rates most programming. So, we love our relationship with the NFL. We’re aware if a new deal gets made the price of poker is going up. It should go up. They’ve delivered properties to us that have done extremely well. But there’s always one thing you have to remember. The NFL likes their partners to be strong. They like their partners to make money. And we anticipate going forward that something similar will happen. But they’re great partners and we have a terrific relationship with them and we hope it continues for many years,” was the long answer from Moonves, who clearly does not want the NFL to leave CBS.

While its competitors tend to have more sports rights, Moonves said he’s happy with the “mix of sports” that CBS has. “We think we are a major player. We obviously have the NFL – and that deal everybody’s talking about – once again, NFL, great partner. We have the SEC in football, which is by far the best college football league and has proven that this year with the two top teams [Louisiana State University and the University of Alabama] and playing for the national championship. A few weeks ago we had them play on CBS, which was like our highest college football game since 1989 when Alabama played LSU. That was huge, we love that property. Obviously the NCAA Basketball Tournament is a national holiday for three weeks – a national pastime. And now that we make money I don’t have to put my head under the covers for those three weeks while everyone’s talking about how great the tournament is – and we’re losing money. We have the majority of golf events, along with NBC, we’re the #1 golf supplier. We have two of the majors in the Masters and the PGA. We have the US Open tennis. So, with that mix I’m really pleased, I’m not looking to expand,” Moonves said. “We have a great mix of sports and I’m really proud of what we’ve done.” 

RBR-TVBR observation: When CBS lost its NFL contract to upstart Fox in 1993 it sent shockwaves through the TV industry, with numerous stations even switching affiliations. After 38 years of broadcasting NFL games, CBS was without the league for four years before buying back in via a successful bidding war with NBC (which subsequently got back in with a new Sunday night game contract). Moonves doesn’t want to see that happen again, and for good reason.

The NFL, meanwhile, has been very shrewd with its TV rights packages. It has managed to carve things up so that it has contracts with all of the major players, although Disney/ABC put its primary NFL game package (“Monday Night Football”) on ESPN, leaving ABC as the only one of the Big Four broadcast networks without weekly NFL games. Even the small slice that the league designated for its own NFL Network seems to be paying off in the ratings and building the specialized cable network.