ABC eyes record as ad biz blitzes Bowl

By John Dempsey

NEW YORK (Variety) – A revved-up marketplace is pushing the ad revenues of the 2003 Super Bowl on ABC toward a possible record $130 million.

That’s the word along Madison Avenue, which is buzzing about the $2.2 million per 30-second spot ABC has extracted, on average, from such advertisers as Anheuser-Busch, Pepsi, Cadillac and Levi’s. These sponsors have already bought 80% or so of the 61 available spots in the 37th annual Super Bowl, slated for Jan. 26 in San Diego.

During last January’s Super Bowl on the Fox Network, the nailbiter in which New England beat St. Louis on a last-second field goal, Fox wound up pocketing about $1.9 million per 30-second spot. Fox was hurt somewhat by sluggish advertiser demand and tough competition from the 2002 Winter Olympics (news – web sites) on NBC.

Walt Disney Co.-owned ABC doesn’t comment on Super Bowl pricing.

“We’ve taken advantage of the strong advertising economy to sell sports packages across a number of our platforms,” said Ed Erhardt, president of customer marketing and sales for ESPN and ABC Sports.

Erhardt said ABC sold a big chunk of time in the Super Bowl during last summer’s upfront marketplace, convincing advertisers also to buy time in pre-game programming on both ABC and ESPN, as well as on the Bowl Championship Series and in National Basketball Assn. games, among other “big event sports.”

Outside observers like Neal Pilson, head of Pilson Communications and former president of CBS Sports, are impressed. “I’m not surprised that ABC is doing so well,” Pilson said, “because the ratings of the last five or six Super Bowl games have remained constant at between a 40 and a 44 (share of the available TV audience).”

“Advertisers are fully aware,” he said, “that the Super Bowl continues to be a platform that reaches almost half of the nation at one time.”

Tom DeCabia, executive VP of media buyer PHD USA, said the only circumstance that could pull ABC’s Super Bowl average down is if advertisers hold off buying the final 20% of the spots until the 11th hour, forcing the network to sell them at a discount.

But that’s not likely to happen, said Mark DiMassimo, president of DiMassimo Brand Advertising, because “there are more advertising dollars moving to TV this year and away from such areas as online and print magazines.”

DiMassimo said that an event like the Super Bowl, which pulls bigger audiences than any other TV program year after year, “is a conservative, meat-and-potatoes choice for an advertiser with a $50 million advertising budget.” He added that the recent hot scatter (spot) market has raked in so much money for the networks that ABC may actually chalk up more for the final 20% of its Super Bowl inventory.

The industry is also psyched by the return of big-budget, imaginative, often humorous new spots that ad agencies have devised for unveiling during the Super Bowl, an annual Madison Avenue tradition that fell off somewhat last year because of the down economy and the grim mood following the Sept. 11 attacks.

As DiMassimo puts it, “You’re going to see 30-second spots that spare no expense and will have the look and quality of a top Hollywood movie.”