Super Bowl Ad Prices Set New Record

$2.25 Million for a 30-Second Commercial

By Richard Linnett

NEW YORK ( — The average price of a 30-second spot on the Super Bowl has jumped 7% to a record-breaking $2.25 million, solidifying the game’s role as the centerpiece of the marketing year, even as grumbling grows about the effectiveness and cost-efficiency of network TV.

CBS has sold 54 in-game spots for the Feb. 1 game to marketers such as Anheuser-Busch Cos., Frito-Lay, Pepsi-Cola Co. and Procter & Gamble Co. Eight slots remain, according to media buyers. Those last spots, as usual, are available for significantly less than the spots already sold, although the network is shuffling inventory in a bid to keep the value high. The fourth quarter is now selling for as low as $1.8 million, media buyers reported.

Prices negotiable

“CBS is trying to entice advertisers,” said one top media buyer who has not bought the game yet, but is being heavily courted. “Prices are negotiable, but they’re not diving yet. They’re freeing up other quarters to attract buyers.”

The game sell-off had been moving at a fine clip until several weeks ago when it stalled at 85% of inventory sold out. Now media buyers are saying the game is slowly inching toward a hair’s breadth of 90% sold as a result of some aggressive moves by the network.

Inventory is still available in all quarters of the game, including the first, after some large advertisers either dropped out or cut 60-second spots down to 30 seconds, media buying executives told Two media buyers said it’s likely CBS is shifting its promotions for its own shows to later in the game in order to cut loose the premium inventory in the first and second quarters.

Soft market

“The market softened up a bit,” said a top media executive who bought into the game, “so there’s not a lot of money floating around out there, so that’s probably why they are trying to sell aggressively. They don’t want it sitting there too long.”

Executives at CBS had no comment.

Media agency executives, however, praise CBS for the selling job it has done so far, as parent Viacom worked out attractive packages around the Super Bowl, throwing in spot deals in other shows and networks and in outdoor.

Acting like Mel

“They are really being smart about driving their revenue,” said the top media executive. “They are in essence, acting like [President-Chief Operating Officer Mel Karmazin], being real aggressive about how they push stuff, but they are not doing it in a piggish way.”

CBS also created packages in shows before and after the game, as well as in-game sponsorships. General Motors Corp.’s Cadillac, the official auto of the game, will run a 60-second spot during the game and will also appear during the broadcast of Phil Sims’ All Iron Show, an afternoon preview to the game. It will also have three 30-second ads launching the SRX sport utility vehicle in the postgame show, for which it is the title sponsor. Finally, the game’s most valuable player gets to pick out his own new Cadillac during an on-air presentation.

“CBS did a gangbuster business selling the game early,” said Peter Gardiner, media director at Interpublic Group of Cos.’ Deutsch, which has at least two spots in the game, one for Monster Worldwide. “They’ve been in a pretty good position and they are pretty good at maintaining their pricing.”

Defying trends

While broadcast TV continues to suffer serious erosion among viewers, especially 18- to 49-year-old men, the Super Bowl continues to defy trends. Last year, according to Nielsen Media Research, the game was picked up in more than 43 million households and watched by more than 88 million Americans. This year, media buyers project the game will draw 90 million viewers. The $2.25 million average for the 62 spots means marketers will spend about $139.5 million (excluding half-time and pre-game) — or about $1.61 for each viewer.

“The Super Bowl is bigger than television,” said Ray Warren, managing director of Omnicom Group’s OMD, typically the largest buyer of time and which bought almost 20% of the game. “The game is a national holiday. It’s the only place to put 100 million people in front of a commercial.”

~ ~ ~ Jean Halliday and Bradley Johnson contributed to this report.