Super Bowl still has open second-half ad spots–SuperBowlAds&&news&newsflash-financial

Super Bowl still has open second-half ad spots


The Associated Press

The Wall Street Journal

Super Bowl Sunday is fewer than 20 days away. But despite the improving overall demand for advertising time on television, ABC still hasn’t sold out all of its inventory of commercial time to advertisers eager to make a splash with their brands or products during the high-profile Jan. 26 game.

Marketers looking to promote their products during television’s leading viewing event can still get in on the action — if they are willing to have their commercials hit the airwaves during the second half.

ABC, the Walt Disney unit that is broadcasting this year’s game, has fewer than 10 commercial slots of 30 seconds apiece available for sale in the third and fourth quarters. Traditionally, a Super Bowl game has roughly 61 total commercial slots. The spots at the start of the game are most desirable because if the match is a blowout, viewers may go elsewhere.

Last year at this time, about three weeks before the game, News Corp.’s Fox was about 80 percent sold out. Fox didn’t reach a 90 percent sellout level until the week before the game, and the last spot wasn’t sold until the Thursday before the game. Demand then was far more sluggish than it had been during the dot-com advertising mania of 2000, the year ABC last carried the Super Bowl, when advertisers got into a bidding war for the last available commercial slots.

So far, ABC says it has been able to command a whopping $2.2 million on average for the slots it has sold. That is roughly 15 percent more than what advertisers paid last year, when the television industry was mired in a dire ad recession.

Edward R. Erhardt, president of customer marketing and sales for ESPN ABC Sports, said the price increases for the game are in line with the increases in the overall television marketplace. “We’re not up against the Olympics or other events like the Super Bowl was last year,” he says. “This game is the one event where you can command an audience that big. It is reflective of the fact that advertisers see it as a premiere event.”

In fact, the Super Bowl is one of Madison Avenue’s most expensive propositions. Last year, the game reached more than 42.6 million homes, according to Nielsen Media Research. Prices for commercial time during the big game have increased by more than 450 percent in the past 20 years alone. In 1982, for example, 30 seconds of advertising on the Super Bowl cost an estimated $324,300 on average. By 2002, the going rate for 30 seconds had reached $1.9 million.

“For the last couple of years, there have been some spots left up in the air on a distressed basis,” says Jack Myers, a New York consultant to media companies and advertising agencies. “But the game continues to be one of the most efficient ways to generate quick awareness among a broad audience, particularly those who don’t watch a lot of TV during the year. So even at its high price, it continues to be attractive.”

What’s helping sales this year is that marketers are spending on advertising, and using TV as their vehicle. “There’s money shifting from direct marketing into more branded advertising by the automotive, and packaged-goods and entertainment companies,” adds Mr. Myers. “The wireless category is strong, as is automotive and entertainment. They drive up the whole ad market behind it.”

AT&T Wireless is sponsoring the half-time show and paid an estimated $6 million for the privilege. Advertisers returning to this year’s game are Anheuser-Busch; Visa, and Monster, a Maynard, Mass., job-search Web site that last year dropped the “dot-com” from its name. Visa, which uses the tagline, “Visa. It’s everywhere you want to be,” will have two 30-second ads during the game. PepsiCo is advertising during the game and just signed on a new spokeswoman, singer/actress Beyonce Knowles. Ms. Knowles has agreed to appear in two commercials this year, though it isn’t clear whether the ads will be shown during the Super Bowl or later.

To lure advertisers, the network is also selling commercial time and sponsorships during the pregame program, which begins at 2 p.m., and will be co-hosted by Chris Berman at the stadium and Mike Tirico on an aircraft carrier in the San Diego harbor. The reach of pregame shows is generally more targeted to the true football fan — in other words, young men. The postgame generally is less valuable: If the game isn’t good, viewers tune out. On the other hand, ratings rise sharply if the game is close. An estimated 22.2 million households tuned in for the final half hour of Friday’s Fiesta Bowl, which went into double overtime.

Mr. Erhardt says the network is selling the afternoon programs to sponsors who purchase half-hour “entitlements.” Of the eight total half-hour segments, one is still left for sale, he notes. The pregame spots are often sold in advance and packaged with ad deals on other football programs on ESPN or ABC.

Though the total amount ABC ultimately pulls in is yet to be determined, the Super Bowl will be an expensive proposition. Some hope ABC’s ad sales for the game will generate revenue of nearly $140 million. But television networks generally lose a lot of money on their broadcast of professional football because they pay rights fees of $500 million to $600 million a year to show the games. Production costs for the Super Bowl generally are a few million dollars.