Two decades of Super Bowl ad sales total $1.6 billion

By William Spain, MarketWatch

CHICAGO (MarketWatch) — Commercial advertising time in the Super Bowl has steadily gotten more expensive, generating well over $1 billion in sales for the broadcast networks over the last two decades, according to data released on Wednesday.

In the 20 Super Bowls played since 1986, the networks have carried 717 minutes, or roughly 12 hours, of advertising during game broadcasts a combined value of almost $1.6 billion, said TNS Media Intelligence, an ad-tracking firm.

There have been more than 1,400 ads from 227 different marketers over that time period, and the top five spenders accounted for roughly one-third of the total.

TNS said the No. 1 spender was Anheuser-Busch (NYSE:BUD) , which has ponied up a total of $230 million and has been a sponsor in every Super Bowl broadcast covered by the study.

After that comes PepsiCo (NYSE:PEP) at $180 million. Rounding out the top five sponsors were General Motors (OTHER:MTLQQ) , Time Warner (NYSE:TWX) and Fedex (NYSE:FDX) .

Many of the top advertisers come back year after year, noted Jon Swallen, research director at TNS.

“I was surprised at the continuity,” he said. “You know there will be Budweiser and Pepsi, but I would have been hard-pressed to say that about General Motors and Fedex.”

The top five advertisers have all been in the game for at least 10 years, he said, with about 60% of the ad money invested in the game coming from marketers that ran commercials the previous year.

While that’s “a very high retention rate, it’s actually lower than the comparable rate for two other showcase TV events,” he added, referring to the Academy Awards at 78% and the World Series at 67%.

Since 1986, the cost of a 30-second spot has more than quadrupled, hitting $2.5 million in 2005 on last year’s Fox broadcast. The amount of time given over to sponsors has jumped from 36 minutes to 43 minutes, including promotional “house” ads, which make up about 25% of total time.

And the Super Bowl grinds all comers into the dust when it comes to revenues. In 2001, the championship game brought in $136.4 million in ads, about the same as all seven games of the World Series and way ahead of the $88.7 million garnered during the NCAA’s Final Four.

Last year, the Super Bowl generated $159 million in sales, eclipsing the $148 million from four World Series games and the Final Four’s $142 million.