Fox Needs Late Scores In Super Bowl Ad Sales


Daily News Business Writer

The Super Bowl’s been a tough sell for Fox TV.

Facing one of the worst advertising environments in recent memory, only now is Fox getting closer to its goal of selling out ad time – and it faces tough price pressure from advertisers.

On Friday, with two weeks left before the most-watched TV event of the year, Fox scored some last-minute sales, pushing the spots it has sold to 90% of the total available from 80%.

“We’re definitely into the single digits of what we have left,” said Fox Sports spokesman Lou D’Ermilio.

There are 60 30-second spots in the game.

But up until late last week, News Corp.-owned Fox was way behind where CBS was at this point last year. “We had a handful of units left,” said CBS Sports spokeswoman Leslie AnneWade.

Fox may soon be forced to slash prices. That could translate into losses of $10 million to $15 million on the game, according to a report from ABN Amro.

Fox maintains that its average price for a 30-second spot is about $2 million, nearly on par with CBS’ $2.1 million last year. But at least one Super Bowl advertiser told the Daily News that it has paid $3 million for a 60-second spot, indicating that prices are under pressure.

The Super Bowl is TV’s premier event, luring 130 million viewers who are as much riveted by the game as the traditional display of buzz-worthy commercials from big-time advertisers. But the economy is sour, and Fox faces stiff competition from NBC’s Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City. NBC’s enjoying robust sales as advertisers rush to harness the country’s post-Sept. 11 patriotic fever.

An ad on the Olympics – which will air live this year – can be had for a quarter the price of a Super Bowl spot.

“The economy is not as robust as it’s been in recent years and the Super Bowl is not immune,” said D’Ermilio, adding that the Olympics “create more of a challenge.”

Some advertisers, including Volkswagen, Cingular Wireless and Electronic Data Systems, have decided to forego football this year to jump to the Olympics. Even so, Super Bowl viewers will still see ads from such mainstays as Anheuser Busch, Pepsi and Visa, as well as newcomers like H&R Block, which will enter the game with a tax-themed spot from “Fargo” and “Raising Arizona” directors the Coen brothers, set to Beatles song “Tax Man.”

Universal Orlando Resort thinks the Super Bowl’s mega audience is a good bet for its new 60-second spot featuring characters from its parks like Frankenstein and Popeye, that will seek to distinguish itself from rival Disney.

So for Fox ad salesmen, the game’s not over until the coin toss. “We are continuing to write business every day,” D’Ermilio said.