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CBS Parks Lexus in Thursday NFL Halftime

CBS has kicked off advertising sales of its new Thursday Night NFL franchise by signing luxury automaker Lexus as the sponsor of its halftime show.

Lexus had been the halftime show sponsor of Thursday Night Football on the NFL Network. This season, the league is looking to boost viewership on Thursday by having CBS and the NFL Network simulcast primetime games during the first half of the season.

The ad sales teams at the NFL and CBS have been working together to try to persuade incumbent advertisers on the NFL Network to step up to the simulcast, which is expected to have significantly higher ratings than last year’s games had on the cable network alone.

“After a successful halftime position the past two seasons on NFL Network’s production of Thursday Night Football, we were very interested in returning this season to extend the brand equity we’ve built to a national broadcast audience on CBS,” said Teri Hill, Lexus media manager. “The Thursday Night Football partnership between CBS and NFL Network presents a terrific opportunity to reach a prime demographic using the most coveted vehicle in media: live NFL football.”

Ad time in NFL games generally begins to sell a bit before the primetime upfront negotiations in late May and early June. “The bottom line is that we’re open for business. We’ve written some business and we’re ready to write more,” said John Bogusz, executive VP, sports sales and marketing at CBS.

‘‘Clearly what we’re trying to do in the marketplace is to have continuity between the first half of the season and the second half,” added Tony Taranto, CBS senior VP for NFL sales. “Thursday night is a single package. CBS is producing every game every week, when it airs on us and when it airs on the NFL network.”

At this point, some of the NFL incumbents such as Lexus have agreed to sponsor the CBS broadcasts as well. “A lot of advertisers are seeing the benefit of having CBS as a partner,” said Brian Matthews, senior VP of sales for NFL Media. “The incumbents and the new advertisers are understanding the power of the combination of CBS and the NFL Network.” CBS is bringing its announcing talent to the Thursday night games all season long.

“This is not a new franchise, but it is a new situation, which is leading to more interest in a lot more categories. We expect demand to be very healthy for this franchise,” Matthews said.

But while it is still early in the process, some of the NFL Network sponsors will not be coming back for the simulcasts. Among the high-profile packages available to new advertisers are in the pregame programming and the game reset before the start of the second half.

The companies declined to say how much more it would cost to sponsor the games simulcast on CBS and the NFL Network than it cost last year to sponsor the NFL Network alone.

Some media buyers have expressed the notion that with CBS adding inventory to the NFL market with its Thursday night broadcasts, price increases this year might be smaller than in past seasons.

But Bogusz said that, “the NFL is the strongest property out there and we’re happy to have more of it.” He added that there was strong demand from automakers, telecom companies and insurers. “We think the market is going to hold up pretty well,” he said, particularly in comparison to primetime entertainment programming, whose ratings are slipping.

Sporting Chance

Sports has been one of TV’s brightest spots, with ratings holding up and advertisers enthralled because commercials are more likely to be watched given that most viewers don’t DVR live events.

Taranto added that having two NFL packages allows CBS to sell football in two day parts, Sunday afternoons and primetime. “That puts us in a lot more conversations,” he said.

Bogusz said that promoting the Thursday Night Football broadcasts will be a priority at CBS. “It will be front and center as we head into the new season.”

Bogusz added that CBS was pleased with the schedule of games it will be broadcasting this season on Thursday nights. That schedule begins Sept. 11 with the Baltimore Ravens taking on their divisional rivals, the Pittsburgh Steelers. On Thanksgiving, CBS will air the Chicago Bears meeting the Detroit Lions.

The NFL awarded the Thursday night broadcast package to CBS in February. The deal is for one year, with the NFL holding an option for another year. Financial terms were not disclosed but sources have put the value of the deal at between $250 million and $300 million.

Last season, Thursday Night Football on the NFL Network, which has about 72 million subscribers, averaged 6.74 million viewers, up 4.7% from 2012. That trailed the 13.68 million viewers who watched Monday Night Football on ESPN and the 21.75 million viewers who watched Sunday Night Football on NBC.

On Sunday afternoons, Fox’s NFL broadcasts averaged 21.12 million viewers and CBS drew 18.63 million viewers.