NBC Sells Most Super Bowl Ads for Under $3 Million (Update3)

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By James Callan

Jan. 27 (Bloomberg) — NBC Universal sold most of its Super Bowl ads for less than it planned to charge.

NBC sold 12 spots for the Feb. 1 game for $3 million each and others in the “high 2 millions,” Dick Ebersol, chairman of NBC Sports and Olympics, said on a conference call today. The broadcaster has four slots left to sell for the game in Tampa, Florida, between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Arizona Cardinals, he said. The National Football League Championship game has 67 30- second commercial spots, according to NBC spokesman Brian Walker.

The financial crisis has forced marketers to slash budgets. General Motors Corp. and FedEx Corp. are among advertisers passing on the Super Bowl this year for the first time in more than a decade. In May, NBC said it wanted $3 million per ad, 11 percent more than the $2.7 million News Corp.’s Fox charged last year.

“Super Bowl spots are not selling like they have in past years,” Tim Calkins, a marketing professor at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management in Evanston, Illinois, said in a telephone interview. “Demand has not materialized.”

Selling the ads has been a “tough slog” since Sept. 5, when NBC said it had sold 85 percent of the commercial spots, Ebersol said. Last year, Fox sold its last ad on Jan. 29, five days before the game. The network had 63 slots.

Brad Adgate, director of research for Horizon Media Inc., a New York-based ad agency, predicts NBC will get “slightly” less than $200 million in revenue from ads broadcast during the game. Fox may have earned $170 million last year, according to a person with knowledge of the sales.

The 2008 Super Bowl, in which the New York Giants beat the previously undefeated New England Patriots, drew a record 97.5 million viewers, making it the most-watched television broadcast last year, according to researcher Nielsen Co. Adgate predicts this year’s game will draw about 90 million. General Electric Co., the parent of NBC, rose 64 cents to $13.06 in New York Stock Exchange composite trading. The shares have tumbled 62 percent in the past year.

To contact the reporter on this story: James Callan in New York at [email protected]