Super Bowl dot-com advertisers told to pay upfront

San Jose Mercury News / USA Today

Show me the money.

That’s ABC’s signal for dot-com advertisers looking to suit up for Super Bowl XXXIV.

ABC is making dot-com advertisers pay in advance for time in the advertising showcase. ABC is using an arsenal of defenses against the threat of deadbeats, including letters of credit and escrow accounts.

“For new companies, we have asked for the money upfront,” says Larry Fried, ABC’s executive VP/NFL sales. ABC is cautious with “any advertiser that doesn’t have particularly good credit” or has “no payment history,” he says. How many advertisers are affected? “Quite a few,” says Fried, who declines to name names.

ABC’s “no pay, no play” policy reverses the long-standing practice of advertisers paying only after the ads run. That way, all parties can verify they got what they paid for. But don’t tell that to dot-coms eager to repeat the Super Bowl success last year of and

Up to 10 dot-coms are paying a record rate of $2 million for 30 seconds, up from $1.6 million in the last game. But most actually are having to shell out $3 million to $5 million for ABC “packages” that include premium in-game slots, as well as less attractive pregame positions.

ABC is treating the dot-coms on a case-by-case basis. Dot-coms with ad track records with ABC get a pass, as do established advertisers like Pepsi or Visa. For others, it’s a different story.

The different experiences of the dot-coms shows the large swings in how and how much a Super Bowl advertiser pays for its moment of glory. This year’s game, for example, could see a $1 million “spread” between the prices paid by different advertisers, predicts Jerry Solomon, president of national broadcast buying at SFM Media.

“Does everybody pay the same price on TV?” asks Solomon. “The answer is no.”

Some industry watchers ask whether dot-coms operating in the red should be spending $2 million per spot. Excite@Home considered Super Bowl time before passing due to the “clutter factor,” says senior vice president of marketing Fred Siegel. “It’s a high-stakes gamble. Most will probably feel they should have spent their money somewhere else.”

ABC’s Super Bowl policy is part of an industry-wide get-tough attitude toward dot-coms, say experts. Some network and stations are starting to demand these firms pay half or all of their media bills for all their ads upfront.