By Ronald Grover and Lisa Richwine
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - The CBS television network won a bidding war to air eight Thursday night National Football League games during the 2014 season, giving it one of the most highly prized programs on a night coveted by TV advertisers.
CBS and the NFL announced the deal on Wednesday.
CBS, which competed against the NBC and Fox networks, ESPN and Turner Broadcasting System, had been considered a long shot at the outset of the bidding because of its strong Thursday night lineup, which includes TV's leading comedy "The Big Bang Theory," and ratings mainstay "Two and A Half Men."
The bidding was less than $300 million for the single-season contract, which includes a one-year option at the NFL's choice, according to a person with knowledge of the bids. Prices were lower than they might have been for such a prized property because the CBS games will simultaneously telecast on the NFL Network.
"This is about making a strong night even stronger," said CBS Chief Executive Officer Leslie Moonves in an interview with Reuters. "This adds 32 great hours at a pretty reasonable price."
Moonves said the NFL games, which will be telecast early in the coming season, give CBS the ability to use its strong Thursday programs on other nights and help new shows gain an audience. The network's regular Thursday night lineup likely would start around November 1, he said.
The deal gives CBS the opportunity to do more things in the future with the NFL, Moonves said, although he said there are no plans for CBS to operate the NFL Network or for the games to migrate to the CBS Sports Network cable channel.
"This was about helping to build the NFL brand on Thursday nights and the NFL Network," he said. "This was about putting those games on a broadcast network."
CBS, a unit of CBS Corp, already broadcasts NFL games on Sunday afternoon.
Bids were also submitted by NBC, owned by Comcast Corp; Fox; ESPN, owned by Walt Disney Co; and TBS, owned by Time Warner, according to the person with knowledge of the bids.
Shares of CBS were up 0.8 percent at $58.34 in afternoon trading.
(Reporting by Lisa Richwine and Ronald Grover; Editing by Leslie Adler and Tom Brown)