Editor's pick: Originally published Jan. 7.
Fox Sports has emerged as the top rival to CBS (CBS - Get Report) in the bidding for the broadcast rights to National Football League games on Thursday nights, submitting a "stiff" bid in an effort to keep CBS from extending its two-year agreement for the nation's most popular sport, according to two people with knowledge of the bid.
The NFL is collecting bids from TV and Internet companies for what is believed to be a one-year agreement to broadcast eight of the 16 Thursday night games. The bidding is expected to substantially exceed the estimated $300 million that CBS currently pays for the telecasts, though the size of Fox's bid wasn't immediately clear.
A spokesman for Fox, a unit of Rupert Murdoch's 21st Century Fox (FOX) would confirm only that the company has responded to the Request for Proposal that the league circulated to potential bidders in mid-December. The league's FRP also allows for the winning bidder to produce the remaining eight games for the league-owned NFL Network.
The NFL outlined a one-year deal with another year at the league's option, and also outlined a separate request for proposals to simulcast the games online. Proposals were sent to CBS, ESPN, Fox, NBC and Turner, according to Sports Business Daily , as well as to Alphabet's (GOOG - Get Report) Google, Yahoo (YHOO) , Apple (AAPL - Get Report) and Amazon (AMZN - Get Report) . A decision is expected by the Feb. 7 Super Bowl.
The Thursday night games have been a boon to CBS, which is in the second year of its agreement with the league for the mid-week games. CBS, the country's most-watched network, averaged 13 million viewers for the Thursday games, a 6% increase over 2014, the company said recently. Each of the games were ranked as the top-rated shows of those nights, providing CBS an enviable platform from which to publicize other parts of its schedule.
Fox ranks fourth in the current TV season, averaging 5.9 million viewers, according to Nielson Media Research, compared to the 11 million average for CBS. Fox ranks third among viewers aged 18 to 49-years-old, the demographic that advertisers most want to reach.
"We hope we continue with Thursday night," CBS CEO Leslie Moonves said in response to a question at the UBS Global Media and Communications Conference on Dec. 7. "We won't pay something stupid for it, but hopefully it doesn't come to that." A CBS spokesman had no further comment.
ABC is said to be looking at making a bid, but has yet to do so. The network is a unit of Walt Disney (DIS - Get Report) , whose ESPN cable channel has a long-term agreement to broadcast the Monday Night Football. Both ESPN and ABC will air the Kansas City-Houston NFL Wild Card game on Saturday, the first NFL game telecast on ABC since Super Bowl XL in 2006. An ESPN spokesman declined to comment.