NBC Gets Final N.F.L. Contract While CBS Gets Its Sundays Off

Published: December 21, 1993

A new era has arrived for American television viewers accustomed to watching their favorite pro football teams each Sunday afternoon: Fox and NBC are in. CBS is out.

The absence of CBS from National Football League broadcasts for the first time since 1956 was assured yesterday when NBC retained the rights to American Football Conference games in a four-year deal. Just three days earlier, the Fox Network knocked CBS out of televising National Football Conference games.

Fox's acquisition of N.F.C. games will not only affect the way viewers watch football but could also affect the balance of power among the major networks in terms of ratings and advertising. Fox, which was launched in 1987, now must try to maintain the traditional ratings supremacy associated with the N.F.C., whose teams are in such strong markets as New York, Chicago, Philadelphia and Washington.

NBC acquired the rights to A.F.C. games with a $217-million-a-year bid that was labeled a break-even deal by Dick Ebersol, the president of NBC Sports. It fell below CBS's $250 million annual offer, which was judged by the N.F.L. to have come after a commitment had been made to NBC.

By raiding the highly rated N.F.C. package with a blockbuster $395-million-a-year bid, Fox raises the questions of whether it can produce games at CBS's level, and whether it will lure popular CBS football broadcasters like John Madden, the Rabelaisian former coach who has revolutionized game analysis, and Terry Bradshaw, the zany former quarterback who is co-host of CBS's studio show.

Fox may, however, further change viewing habits by using on-air talent and production techniques that appeal to young audiences, which are the primary viewers of its programming.

"We'll do it better," Lucie Salhany, the chairman of the Fox Broadcasting Company, said. "It'll be first class. We want to make the N.F.L. look better than what we've seen. We have the crown jewel of all sports."

Rupert Murdoch, the owner of Fox, said over the weekend that he wanted to hire Madden.

Making a pre-emptive bid for football enables Fox to build its network and increase the value of the stations it owns. The network of Bart Simpson envisions football as a powerhouse that can increase the ratings of its Sunday night programming.

But CBS said that its football schedule had only a small effect on the ratings of "60 Minutes" and the remainder of its prime-time Sunday schedule. 'Terrible Disappointment'