CBS Sports Head on Battling Rivals for Thursday Night NFL: ‘We Have an Advantage’

TCA 2016: Sean McManus tells TheWrap his group has a leg up in the ongoing bid process, but isn’t necessarily the “frontrunner”

CBS Sports Chairman Sean McManus is eagerly looking forward to Super Bowl 50, but he’s also anxiously awaiting word as to whether or not his group will own “Thursday Night Football” again.

In late December, the NFL asked networks for financial bids and their planned promotional/production details for “Thursday Night Football” rights, which were up for grabs at the end of the league’s regular season.

“We haven’t heard anything back yet; they’re still looking at the proposals,” McManus told TheWrap of the current “wait and see” period. “We’d like to renew. ‘Thursday Night Football’ has been a big success — not only for us, but for the NFL and the NFL Network.

Our conversation took place during Tuesday’s Television Critics Association press junket, and spanned the CBS Sports group’s time on stage through a small journalist scrum immediately after.

“We had the benefit obviously of doing the first two years of the network broadcast, so we had a lot of experience in both those areas,” McManus said.

But that doesn’t mean he believes keeping those rights will be a chip shot. When we asked McManus if that aforementioned experience makes CBS Sports the “frontrunner,” he couldn’t quite embrace that term.

“I think we have an advantage in that the template is in place with CBS. I’m not sure I’d call us the ‘frontrunner’ because, in the end, the frontrunner normally has the most money, and I’m not sure what the other networks are planning financially,” McManus told us a little later. “But I think the track record that we have — and the fact that we met or exceeded every goal that the NFL had … there’s an ease and a comfort that the NFL has when working with us.”

That said, McManus was quick to point out that other networks have very good experience putting on NFL games and programming, and NBC even very successfully plays in primetime.

It probably doesn’t hurt that while the NFL is weighing bids, CBS is heavily promoting its Super Bowl 50. But McManus doesn’t think that will carry water on the league’s decision-making.

“I don’t think there’s a connection, no,” he said, “I just think it’s the luck of the schedule.”

This time around, the uber-popular pro football league is also considering splitting “Thursday Night Football” among a few broadcast networks, as TheWrap reported Monday. We asked sportscasters James Brown and Jim Nantz to weigh in on whether that is a good idea or a bad idea. Brown, the in-studio host for the “NFL on CBS” punted a bit, to use a pigskin term.

Nantz offered a little more thoughtful — or at least, longer — answer.

“We have loved being a part of ‘Thursday Night Football,'” he said. “There’s been a lot of tonnage — that was 15 Thursdays and most Sundays — and we’ve enjoyed it. We want to continue to be a part of it. And whatever Sean is able to work out, we’ll be glad to do it.”

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