What's been rumored for the last six months is inching closer to fruition: CBS Sports is currently engaged in high-level talks about purchasing a large chunk of the NFL Network, multiple industry sources tell Inside Blitz.
CBS and the NFL Network partnered a year ago to televise Thursday Night Football, but insiders are now saying that deal was something of a "trial run" to see about a larger partnership, which appears to be on the horizon.
CBS declined comment.
Three sources say that CBS Sports could potentially acquire 40% or more of the NFL Network, and both sides see it as a win-win for all parties involved. It's unclear if there's a timetable yet for the deal to be completed. One source said before next season begins; another said if a deal is reached, the partners would wait to make a "splashy announcement" ahead of next year's Super Bowl.
Super Bowl 50, which will be a massive extravaganza on February 7, 2016 at Levi's Stadium in California, will air on CBS.
There are several angles to this complex partnership:
* Sources say that there's a small cabal of influential NFL owners who are "frustrated" that the NFL Network is not making that much money, and this group has been pushing for awhile – dating back to 2014 – for a partnership that would be more financially beneficial. A partial sale of NFL Network would do just that.
* The NFL Network would then produce TV content to help out the fledgling CBS Sports Network (something that was teased near the bottom of a Jan. 18 press release). Sources say that NFL Network President Brian Rolapp has informally met with three TV executives who might helm such content production, including one prominent name at ESPN.
* There's potential for some type of Sunday pregame integration between the two networks in the future, similar to how CBS and the NFL Network joined forces on Thursday nights.
* When asked why NBC or Fox wouldn't have a crack at buying some or all of NFL Network – ostensibly to help NBC Sports Network or Fox Sports 1 – a source said: "The partnership with CBS went well, and nobody at either of those networks is as close with Bob Kraft – the most powerful owner in the NFL – as Les Moonves at CBS."
Initially when the CBS/NFL Network partnership was hatched in 2014, the NFL held an option for year two. That option was triggered in January. The partnership was mutually beneficial last season, as Sunday pregame ratings were up for CBS and the NFL Network.
Next season, CBS will again broadcast the first eight games Thursday Night Football games – as will NFL Network – and then the remainder will only appear on the NFL Network. NFL Network hosts will be used in the pregame, halftime and postgame shows while Jim Nantz and Phil Simms are in the booth.