If Les Moonves Is Forced Out of CBS, Will New Leader Fight to Keep SEC and NFL Packages?


Les Moonves has survived, for now, an extensive story from Ronan Farrow in the New Yorker that detailed several incidents in which women went on the record to accuse him of forcible unwanted kissing and alleged retaliation. For the time being, at least, Moonves will remain CBS CEO while the company commissions an independent investigation.

Of course, Moonves is not out of the woods yet. If there were, for example, a cascade of further allegations as has happened time and again following initial publication of stories in the Me Too movement, it’s very tough to see Moonves enduring. Or, he may not withstand even the allegations that have already been made if they are found to be true. Beyond that, even before all this he was involved in a litigious power struggle with Shari Redstone, so he could conceivably be snared even if he were innocent of all these allegations.

If Moonves does wind up being forced out at CBS, it naturally leads to questions about whether and to what extent new network leadership values their live sports packages. CBS and Turner have the NCAA Tournament through 2032 , so that’s not going anywhere. But, their SEC football and NFL packages are up a bit sooner, and there exists the very real possibility a Moonves successor may not value those as much as they’ll cost.

Compared to what other sports rights have gone for since this deal was signed, CBS’s $55 million per year deal with the SEC, which expires in 2023, is insane value. I would expect this package to go for several multiples of its current price when it is done, and CBS was already going to have to swallow the idea of paying a lot more for it or risking losing it. There are going to be many bidders.

The NFL package is also interesting. CBS is paying about a billion dollars a year, and the rights are up in 2022. CBS bowed out of Thursday Night Football, which it and NBC said they were not making money on, but losing NFL on Sundays would be a whole other story. For his part, Moonves touted the NFL as still the best property on television last September. The league would also potentially be hesitant to leave CBS, as they love the audiences that broadcast networks can deliver.

But if for whatever reason — for example, if NFL ratings continue to decline at the double-digit rate of the last two seasons — a new leader at CBS had no appetite to keep the NFL, the newly combined Turner/AT&T conglomerate would be worth looking out for as a potential destination.