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NEW YORK -- The NFL has decided to shift eight of its Thursday night games to a broadcast network, and announced Wednesday that CBS won the bid to showcase more of television's hottest property.
CBS will air the games during the first eight weeks of the season with its top broadcast team of Jim Nantz and Phil Simms, simulcasting them with NFL Network. The league's cable network will show six Thursday night games alone later in the season, produced by CBS with Nantz and Simms also in the booth. Of those eight second-half games, six will be on Thursday nights with two as part of a Saturday doubleheader in Week 16. The first Saturday game would be in the afternoon followed by the second in prime time, NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said.
The NFL said the contract is for one year, and the league has an option to extend it for 2015. Financial terms were not disclosed.
CBS, NBC, ABC, Fox and Turner were all interested in the NFL's Thursday night package. Live television events like sports and awards shows are increasingly important for broadcasters as the audience fragments for traditional fare, and football games are the most dependable ratings-grabbers. Sunday's Super Bowl, with 112.2 million viewers, set a record as the most-watched program in U.S. television history.
The NFL started a limited package of Thursday games in 2006 and showed 13 games on NFL Network this past season. Its goal is to both increase the visibility of NFL Network through promotion on television's most-watched network, along with putting the Thursday games on firmer footing, said Brian Rolapp, the league's executive vice president for media.
"We want to make Thursday night football as big as possible in the minds of the NFL fan," Rolapp said.
Part of the reason for a short-term deal is the NFL's indecision about whether it sees the Thursday night franchise as best for its cable network in years to come, or whether the rights money and greater exposure offered by a broadcast network is the smarter financial play.
CBS will have no flexibility in what games it broadcasts on Thursdays. The NFL will announce its Thursday schedule before the season begins, Rolapp said.
"NFL Network built Thursday into a night for NFL fans," 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."
ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert and The Associated Press contributed to this report.