As CBS Sports stands on the cusp of two of its biggest events of the year, division chairman Sean McManus reiterated the Eye’s view that pricey live-event rights packages “are responsible and good financial deals that make money for the CBS Corp.”
He was referring to deals for NFL Football, SEC football, the PGA and the NCAA basketball tournament, which begins its Final Four games on Saturday. The Masters, which has been televised on CBS since 1956 and is the sport’s most storied tournament, tees off April 5 from Augusta, Ga.
McManus told Variety that top of his mind these days is the college hoops tourney that moves to New Orleans this weekend. Last year CBS pacted with Turner in a 14-year deal to televise the early round games on Turner’s cable palette of TNT, TBS and TruTV. While some observers — both inside and outside of CBS — were concerned that fans wouldn’t be able to locate or have access to those nets, the transition proved fairly seemless.
“In some ways it was surprisingly successful,” McManus said. “The fact that a game on TruTV looked exactly the same, and had the same quality of production, as the game on CBS is a tribute to the team that worked on this. I think the rating exceeded even our optimistic projections. The advertisers were also incredibly satisfied. The goal now is to keep our feet to the fire and keep the pressure on because the bar has been set so high.”
The first Thursday and Friday of the tournament (March 15-18) drew 7.9 million viewers, the most since 1991.
While the cost of the basketball package was a hefty $10.8 billion, that’s less per year than the NFL deal that closed in December. To own rights to the AFC conference, CBS will pay the league approximately $1 billion per year though 2022.
McManus said the large pricetag is intimidating but worth the investment.
“I think when you look at the value the NFL delivers to a television network — not just in terms of programming but in terms of the promotional value — you understand how important it is to bring a huge audience to CBS for almost six months a year,” McManus said. “I think it was a very fair deal for both CBS and for NFL. And as important as the NFL is to CBS, Leslie Moonves would not have done the deal if it didn’t make sense for the corporation from a financial standpoint.”
Last year the PGA reupped with CBS (as well as NBC), and extended its deal through 2021. That pact doesn’t include the highest-rated golf tourney of the year, the Masters.
While most golf tournaments played during the year draw an audience of mostly hardcore-only golf aficionados, casual observers often flip over to CBS for the Masters. And that’s amplified with Tiger Woods is in the hunt during the final round.
Yet, McManus fully realizes that Woods is far from the dominant player he once was, and he is no longer a ratings magnet. That was taken into consideration when the pact extension was signed.
“In the most recent PGA tour deal we did, we did not assume that Tiger was going to be as dominant as he has been in the past,” McManus said. “We did a very conservative projection on ratings. If Tiger finds his groove and plays a number of PGA tour events, that’s all upside for us, but when you look at Rory McIlroy or Luke Donald, and put Phil Mickelson in that group, there is still an awful lot of really appealing golfers on the PGA tour.”