By Ronald Grover
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Fox and CBS have submitted bids for the rights to broadcast as many as eight Thursday night National Football League games, two sources told Reuters, becoming the first major networks to join what's expected to be a heavily-contested auction.
Fox, owned by 21st Century Fox Inc, and CBS are among broadcasters that the NFL has invited to join the bidding process, which is in its early stages.
Based on the reported $950 million that NBC pays for its package of 19 NFL Sunday night games, an eight-game lineup could be worth $400 million or more. Representatives for both networks did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
The NFL is seeking bids for a single season, starting this September, people familiar with the matter have said, with the likelihood of extending the contract after its first year. The league will determine how many Thursday night games it will offer based on the specific proposals it receives.
The football league is seeking bids for as many as eight of the games now telecast on the league-owned NFL Network on Thursday evenings, in an effort to get higher ratings than those on its own cable channel and boost the match-ups' prominence.
The league wants Thursday night games simultaneously televised on its own channel and on the winning bidder's network, according to the two sources close to the bidding process.
Formal requests for bids have also gone out to Walt Disney Co's ESPN cable network, which shows games on Monday night, and to Comcast's NBC network. But it was unclear whether the others will throw their hats in the ring.
All of those, including Fox, now televise regular season games, mostly on Sundays.
The NFL, NBC and Disney have previously declined to comment on details of the process.
The league wants to boost ratings for the Thursday night games to give them the same profile the league enjoys for its Sunday and Monday match-ups, according to a person with knowledge of the NFL's thinking.
NFL Network's Thursday night games were viewed by an average of 8 million viewers for a 13-game schedule in 2013, a 10 percent boost from 2012 but well below NBC's average 21.5 million viewers for its Sunday night contests.
(Writing by Edwin Chan, Editing by Nick Zieminski)