Super Bowl Ad Prices Go Higher

By SKIP WOLLENBERG, AP Business Writer

NEW YORK (AP) – The dot-com invasion of the Super Bowl telecast appears to have gone into retreat, but CBS says it is obtaining higher commercial prices anyway for the show that usually draws the year’s biggest television audience.

CBS officials say next month’s Super Bowl is drawing less Internet company advertising than it did this past January, when about half of the three dozen sponsors were dot-coms who gobbled up an estimated 40 percent of the ad time in a bid to make a name for themselves overnight.

On that telecast, ABC network insiders said advertisers spent a record average of $2.2 million – and reportedly as much as $3 million – for a 30-second commercial.

CBS officials said this week they have sold just over 80 percent of the available commercial time for the Super Bowl football telecast set for Jan. 28, 2001, and said only about 10 percent of the in-game ads will wind up being for dot-coms.

Despite the dot-com pullback, Joe Abruzzese, head of ad sales for CBS, said the network has been getting $2.4 million on average for the half-minute ads it has sold so far in the game.

But it can be hard to isolate how much a Super Bowl ad costs because CBS has been selling them in packages that include ads in the lower-rated pre- and post-game shows.

Some media buyers expect the final average will be lower, possibly matching what ABC got for the last Super Bowl. But they were impressed with the CBS’ ability to command a high price despite cooler demand from Internet companies and a more sluggish ad market overall.

“There still is no event that gets as many people watching it in television, and there is no event on TV that people watch as much for the commercials as for the event itself,” said Jon Mandel, chief negotiating officer for ad buyer MediaCom.

CBS officials expect upward of 130 million people will watch at least some of the game and that the ratings will be twice as high as for the most popular regular TV shows. Throw in the media attention lavished on Super Bowl ads, and you have a powerful incentive for companies to fork over the highest commercial prices on television for just a half-minute in the spotlight.

The job sites Inc. and Inc. will each be back in the 2001 Super Bowl for the third consecutive year, but CBS says viewers should expect a more traditional lineup of sponsors – Anheuser-Busch Cos., PepsiCo Inc., Visa International and FedEx Corp., along with movie studios.

Clothing maker Levi Strauss & Co. of San Francisco will appear for the first time, while MasterCard International Inc., which skipped the last Super Bowl, is returning.

Elisa Romm, vice president of North American advertising for MasterCard, said the dot-com rush a year ago created “an unreal media environment” and added, “Their initial asking price was so outrageous, we told them we weren’t interested.”

But she said the environment is calmer this year and the Purchase, N.Y.-based credit card provider was able to get “a smart price” that will let it showcase a new commercial in its Priceless campaign.

What about the dot-coms who spent heavily to make a splash in the Super Bowl in January, many of which are not returning?, the San Francisco pet supplies e-tailer whose Sock Puppet crooned in its Super Bowl ad in January, went out of business last month.

Oxygen Media Inc., the Web site operator that earlier this week announced some job cuts, used the 2000 Super Bowl telecast to herald the launch of its cable TV channel for women. “We were pleased with the results but it was a one-time thing,” said spokeswoman Sarah Chaikin.

The Super Bowl ad for wedding invitation site ad helped boost its name recognition and credibility among consumers and business customers, founder and CEO Michael Budowski said.

But he said the Orlando, Fla.-based company is now focusing on lining up retailers to carry its cards and is approaching profitability. The cost of being in the next Super Bowl could unnecessarily delay the break-even date, he said.

Meanwhile, Internet appliance maker Netpliance Inc. of Austin, Texas, has shifted gears since using the Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders in its Super Bowl ad, and is focusing its marketing efforts on selling its machines to Internet service providers rather than consumers, spokesman Jon Osmundsen said.

But one advertiser who was prepared to pay $2.5 million for a Super Bowl slot said CBS rejected its commercial.

The People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals wanted to run an ad that show cows singing that they don’t want to be used for their leather. A CBS spokeswoman said the ad was rejected because the network has a policy against running advocacy ads.