Blue-Chips Firm Up Spots for Low-Wattage Bowl;jsessionid=Q5KDMFHTMIRVCCRBAEOCFFA?type=industryNews&storyID=4181852&pageNumber=1

By Andrew Grossman

NEW YORK (Hollywood Reporter) – The New England Patriots vs. the Carolina Panthers may seem far from the sexiest matchup ever seen in the Super Bowl, but even a team from Timbuktu could draw a 43 rating under the right circumstances, industry executives agree.

And speaking of sexy, the lineup of advertisers who ponied up an average of $2.3 million per 30-second spot will include for the first time as many as three erectile-dysfunction companies. Definitely in are Viagra’s generic rivals: Levitra from Bayer and GlaxoSmithKline as well as Cialis from Eli Lilly and Co. and Icos Corp. Media buyers said it was possible that Pfizer Inc.’s Viagra could join them.

Sources close to the matter reported that CBS had sold out more than 90% of its spots for the telecast and expected to close out its inventory by game time. That’s the usual practice for the Super Bowl as the networks typically try to wring the best deals out of the diminishing supply of commercial time.

With advertisers doling out $2 million-$2.4 million per 30-second spot for Super Bowl XXXVIII on Feb. 1 in Houston, it would be tempting to imagine sponsors gagging at the thought of their lavishly produced $500,000 ads being spent on a game with no big-name superstars, involving teams whose offenses score about as much as the “Average Joes” did last fall on NBC.

Sponsors, of course, buy their spots well in advance of the Super Bowl, and though buyers suggest that XXXVIII lacks the buzz of past games, a heartier-than-average rating remained possible.

The matchup in terms of geographical locations is overblown,” said Steven Sternberg, executive vp and director of audience analysis at Magna Global USA. “While it’s true Philadelphia-New England might have been the highest-rated because they were perceived as both being competitive and in very powerful markets, I think that Carolina and New England is also perceived as a fairly competitive game.”

This year’s advertisers are heavy on bigger traditional blue-chip companies, many in the Fortune 100, and even Procter & Gamble, an unusual presence in the game, has bought in.

“It’s the battle of the big brands,” said Tim Spengler, executive vp and director of national broadcast at media buyer Initiative. “People are focusing on ROI (return on investment). The midtier brands . . . do not want to take the risk.”

Advertisers signed so far also include American Legacy, Anheuser-Busch, America Online, Buena Vista Pictures, Chrysler, Walt Disney Pictures, Expedia, FedEx, Frito Lay, Gillette, General Motors, H&R Block, IBM, MasterCard, Mitsubishi,, ONDCP, P&G, PepsiCo, Philip Morris, Reebok, Sony Pictures, Staples, Universal Pictures, Visa and Warner Bros.

Despite the huge price, Spengler said that advertising during the Super Bowl “has paid incredible dividends for a lot of brands over the last 10 years. . . . Nothing ventured, nothing gained.”

While Spengler conceded that other teams would have elicited greater pregame hype, he said: “Fifty percent is how the game is going. I wouldn’t write it off as the lowest-rated Super Bowl yet.”

CBS Sports president Sean McManus, speaking on the network’s annual teleconference call with reporters Wednesday, said: “A dream matchup would be a game that went down to the final play of the fourth quarter and went into overtime.”

Last year’s game, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers vs. the Oakland Raiders, seemed like a great matchup, but the Buccaneers thrashed the Raiders 48-21, which resulted in a good but not great 40.7 rating/61 share on Fox. The five-year peak came in 2000 on ABC when the St. Louis Rams’ last-second stop of the Tennessee Oilers at the 1-yard line kept viewers tuned to a 43.3/63 rating, according to Nielsen Media Research.

Las Vegas oddsmakers have installed the Patriots as 7-point favorites over the Panthers for the game, which begins at 6:25 p.m. EST after a 7-1/2-hour pregame show that includes, for the first time, one hour of related children’s programing on CBS’ sister cable networks.

Consultant and former CBS Sports president Neal Pilson pointed to the Super Bowl’s incredible consistency as an American “national holiday.”

“Looking at this year, most viewers are curious how good is New England’s defense and how strong is Carolina, having beaten a lot of good teams,” Pilson said. “I don’t think there’s a lot of passion for these teams the way there might be for Dallas, Chicago, Green Bay or Miami, teams that have been in the national eye for many years. But New England did win a Super Bowl a couple of years ago, and the ratings . . . were pretty good,” he said.

Charlotte, N.C., might be a small market, CBS’ McManus said, but the team draws from four areas in the state that add up to being the fourth-largest market in the United States. And Charlotte’s 50.2 rating for Sunday’s game against the Philadelphia Eagles shows the passion the area has for the team.

And CBS analyst Phil Simms predicted a close game during the network’s conference call, saying that “if you look at the scores of both teams during the year, it almost tells you the game has to be close.”

The lack of a big superstar doesn’t faze McManus either, who pointed to Patriots quarterback Tom Brady’s appearance Tuesday night beside first lady Laura Bush during the State of the Union speech as evidence of his appeal. “The great thing is that you have two weeks,” McManus added. “Maybe a lot of people haven’t heard of (Panthers quarterback) Jake Delhomme today, but I guarantee you in two weeks everyone will have heard about Jake Delhomme.”

Reuters/Hollywood Reporter