Super Bowl Broadcast Is a Crossroads for CBS Sports

On the one hand, Sunday will be a joyous occasion for CBS Sports. The sports division will broadcast its 22nd Super Bowl, the most of any network. The game is guaranteed to be the most-watched event in television this year, and it will generate hundreds of millions in advertising revenue and provide a huge promotional platform for CBS and its parent company, Paramount.

On the other hand, there’s everything else.

The storied CBS Sports division, the broadcasting home of marquee events like the Masters and March Madness, is confronting a wave of change. Its longtime chairman, Sean McManus, is departing in April. The division has lost the rights to one of its signature properties, Southeastern Conference college football games. Deep-pocketed tech giants are getting aggressive about live sports programming, with companies like Amazon (N.F.L. football on Thursday nights) and Netflix (W.W.E. wrestling) entering the field. And Paramount is widely considered an acquisition target, with a number of suitors circling the company.

It all leaves CBS Sports facing a number of challenges — which company leaders say they can handle by sticking to what they know.

“No matter what happens in the future to the company, sports will increasingly be more important each and every year,” Mr. McManus said.

CBS Sports has long been one of the elite players in American broadcasting. Its understated coverage, narrated over the decades by broadcast booth legends like Pat Summerall, John Madden, Verne Lundquist and Jim Nantz, has stood in stark contrast to rowdier competitors like ESPN and Fox. CBS has televised golf’s Masters tournament with limited commercial interruption and stately hushed tones going back to the 1950s.

And CBS has plenty of major sporting events in its foreseeable future. The network’s N.F.L. rights are locked up through 2033, for about $2 billion a year. The rights to the men’s college basketball tournament are tied up for another eight years, for around $750 million a year. And many PGA Tour events are signed through 2030 for hundreds of millions annually.


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