The Super Bowl Shakeout Stakeout

By Elizabeth Blakey & Jon Weisman

E-Commerce Times

January 16, 2001

Closures, cutbacks and layoffs pummeled several dot-coms that promoted themselves on last year’s Super Bowl telecast.

A year ago, approximately 20 dot-com companies — including half a dozen e-commerce startups — paid US$2.2 million for 30 seconds of advertising time during television’s most watched sporting event, the Super Bowl.

However, not only are there no new pure-plays reportedly coming on board to advertise on this year’s game (to be televised January 28th), but only three of last year’s Internet squadron are returning.

Admittedly, the cost of advertising time for the National Football League’s championship extravaganza increased 13.6 percent in 2001, to $2.5 million per 30-second spot. Still, the reason for this year’s Web no-shows probably has less to do with the price of admission to TV’s annual advertising ritual than the struggles endured by dot-coms over the past 12 months.

E-commerce watchers in 2000 saw a record number of closures and layoffs and a spectacular drop in stock prices. Little wonder that two of the three dot-com companies with the money and guts to buy Super Bowl ads this time around, and, are in the business of helping people find work — or that the third, E*Trade, is in the online trading game.

High-Tech Scrimmage

The three dot-coms will vie with more established companies for attention from the 130 million U.S. viewers expected to watch the Super Bowl this year, not to mention an estimated worldwide audience of more than 700 million. Needless to say, that kind of viewership does not go unnoticed by businesses with services to sell.

“Most people realize the Super Bowl is as much about advertising as football,” director of advertising Zennaa Gallagher told the E-Commerce Times.

Interestingly, a high-tech company generated perhaps the most famous Super Bowl ad of all time: Apple’s 1984 spot introducing the Macintosh. However, struggles followed for almost all of the dot-coms that advertised during last year’s game.

Super Ads

Even the company with arguably the most successful marketing scheme, Sock Puppet-powered, closed in November. Net marketing firm also closed its virtual doors the year of its Super Bowl appearance.

Oxygen Media, which ran an ad last year promoting its TV and Web programming network, later decided to abandon the e-commerce business, which it had been pursuing through its Picky and Womenshands sites.

Other former Super Bowl advertisers that are still on the Web, but shying away from sponsoring this year’s game, include,, and

For its part, former Super Bowl player has expanded its relationship with AOL Digital City and Netscape Netbusiness, but is leaving Super Bowl brand building to others.

Job Seekers Wanted

Additionally, layoffs have pummeled several other dot-coms that promoted themselves on last year’s Super Bowl. Health care site WebMD said in September it would trim its work force by 1,100 jobs by the end of 2001. Other dot-com Super Bowlers that trimmed jobs include, which cut more than 150 staffers, and, which cut 75.

As a result, certainly has incentive to continue its own Super Bowl ads, which in the past have been praised creatively in many quarters. said that its site currently posts 470,630 jobs, almost double the 260,000 jobs listed in January 2000. The company also said it has seen a surge in resume postings since the last Super Bowl.

“ is now considered part of the Super Bowl fabric,” Gallagher said. “Seeing a traffic boost is important, but it is really about building the brand and having people log on later to post their resumes.”


Meanwhile, not only is E*Trade returning to advertise on this year’s Super Bowl telecast, but the online brokerage firm will also sponsor the Super Bowl halftime show for the second year in a row.

E*Trade has also paid to put its logo on the Super Bowl XXXV seat cushions. Although fans might be more interested in the Aerosmith and ‘N Sync performances at halftime, the seat cushions are take-home favorites.

Nonetheless, Super Bowl ads clearly do not guarantee positive results for a company. On January 31st, the day after last year’s Super Bowl, E*Trade shares closed at $21.06. Heading into this year’s championship, the shares are trading in the $11 to 12 range, after dipping to as low as $6.66 on December 21st.

Going Long

While running an ad at the Super Bowl is attractive — with the obvious potential to jump start a new e-commerce company — the fear remains that it is ultimately a risky move that amounts to little more than shuffling money received from investors into the coffers of the television networks.

On the other hand, the Super Bowl rose to prominence after being dismissed by many at the time of its inception as a superfluous, fly-by-night exhibition. Who can say for sure that an e-commerce company advertising on the game is not on track for a similar ascendance?