Super Bowl ads have a life of their own

Three months before kick-off, CBS has already sold 80 per cent of the available commercial time during Super Bowl XXXVIII to advertisers that include newcomers like Procter & Gamble and mainstays like General Motors and PepsiCo.

The robust demand for ads during the broadcast, on February 1, comes despite average prices of $US2.3 million ($3.3 million) to $US2.4 million for a 30-second spot, about 8 per cent higher than this year’s Super Bowl.

Big events, it turns out, are still drawing large numbers of viewers even as the rest of the TV audience continues to fragment.

The disappointing results so far for most new series introduced by the broadcast networks at the start of the prime-time season, along with a drop in male viewers in the prized 18-to-34 age group, underline why many advertisers want to sponsor coverage of big events.

Among those top shows are the Super Bowl, the World Series baseball, the Grammys and the Academy Awards.

“It’s a flight to safety,” said Tom McGovern, sports marketing director at OMD.

“You pretty much know what you are going to get.”

His group is buying commercial time in the Super Bowl for clients like FedEx, Visa and the Frito-Lay and Pepsi-Cola divisions of PepsiCo as well as spots in the Oscar telecast for PepsiCo and Visa.

“The beauty of the Super Bowl is that it hasn’t been impacted by the erosion of viewership and ratings that has affected the rest of television,” Mr McGovern said. “The ability to reach half the population at one time is still there.”

As for the high price tag, he said: “The rate of inflation for the Super Bowl hasn’t been on par with prime time this season. I hate to use the word ‘bargain’, but it’s a price relative to the goals and needs.”

The last time CBS broadcast the Super Bowl, in January 2001, advertising spots were sold for about $US2.3 million for each 30 seconds. (CBS rotates coverage with ABC and Fox Broadcasting.) Commercial time was about 65 per cent sold three months before that Super Bowl, CBS records indicate.

The fervour for ad spots complemented what had been “a pretty healthy market” for commercial time in the regular-season games of the National Football League, said Jo Ann Ross, president for sales at CBS in New York. There are signs of strong demand for spots in the play-off rounds too.

CBS has already sold the major sponsorships in the pre- and post-game shows as well as that of the half-time show, which was bought by the America Online unit of Time Warner. AOL will also advertise during the game.

“Super Bowl advertising has taken on a life of its own,” said David Blum, of Eisner Communications, which conducts an annual survey to gauge consumer interest in the game and the sponsors.

Indeed, this year 14 per cent of respondents said they “would tune in to the game to watch the commercials”, he said, compared with 3 per cent who said that in the first survey in 1992.

The New York Times