Super Bowl Ad Costs More, May Reach Fewer TV Viewers

By Adam Satariano

Jan. 21 (Bloomberg) — paid $2.7 million to show its ad featuring Danica Patrick unzipping her racing outfit before the largest Super Bowl audience ever last year. This year, the spot costs $3 million and fewer people may see it.

The Feb. 1 match-up in Tampa, Florida, between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Arizona Cardinals on NBC will have a hard time topping the audience for last year’s come-from-behind victory by the New York Giants over the previously undefeated New England Patriots, analysts and advertisers said.

A record 97.4 million viewers watched last year’s National Football League championship on News Corp.’s Fox network as the Giants’ last-minute scoring drive dashed the Patriots’ bid for the league’s first perfect season since 1972. The game pitted teams from the largest and seventh-largest media markets, which this year’s contenders can’t match, said Peter Gardiner, chief media officer at advertising agency Deutsch Inc.

“You’re going to have some decent story lines, but you’re not going to have that ultimate story,” said Gardiner, whose clients include DirecTV Group Inc., Johnson & Johnson and TGI Friday’s Inc. “You had an underdog team and an undefeated team, and it was a phenomenal game.”

NBC is charging advertisers such as, Anheuser- Busch InBev NV and PepsiCo Inc. as much as $3 million for 30 seconds of airtime, Senior Vice President Seth Winter said on Sept. 11. That represents an 11 percent increase from last year, according to Nielsen Co., the New York-based researcher that collects the audience data used to set ad rates.

“We are 90 percent sold and in active conversations on the remaining spots,” Brian Walker, a spokesman for NBC Sports, said yesterday in an e-mail, repeating comments made on Dec. 31. NBC is owned by General Electric Co.

‘American Holiday’

The Super Bowl has exceeded 90 million viewers in each of the past three years and is an unparalleled opportunity to reach shoppers, said Ann Mukherjee, group vice president of marketing for PepsiCo’s Frito-Lay North America in Plano, Texas.

“The ratings will always be up and down, but at the end of the day it’s become an American holiday,” said Mukherjee, whose company is airing Doritos ads produced by customers.

The Cardinals beat the Philadelphia Eagles 32-25 Jan. 18 in the National Football Conference championship, while the Steelers eliminated the Baltimore Ravens 23-14 in the American Football Conference title game, setting up this year’s match.

The Cardinals’ home is Glendale, Arizona, outside Phoenix, the 12th-largest U.S. media market with 1.86 million TV homes. Pittsburgh ranks 23rd with 1.16 million, according to Nielsen. New York and Boston covered almost 10 million TV homes.

Close Game

A close game will draw viewers even if the teams are from smaller markets, said Tom Ziangas, vice president of Nielsen Sports. The least-watched Super Bowl of the past 25 years was in 1990, when 73.9 million people witnessed the San Francisco 49ers’ 55-10 thrashing of the Denver Broncos.

“It’s really two things: the story line behind the game and the competitive nature of the game,” Ziangas said.

More than 40 percent of U.S. TV households have tuned in since 1990, according to Nielsen.

Go Daddy Group Inc., the Scottsdale, Arizona-based company that sells Internet domain names, plans to run at least one 30- second ad. The company is considering two commercials, both of which are now on its Web site.

In last year’s spot, Patrick began to unzip a black leather racing uniform before viewers were directed to watch the entire “Exposure” clip at About 1.5 million viewers went to the site before the game ended, according to Bob Parsons, founder and chief executive.

Market Share

Go Daddy locked in its fifth consecutive year advertising in the Super Bowl last summer.

“It makes money,” Parsons said in an interview. After the debut ad in 2005, the company’s market share jumped to 25 percent from 16 percent, Parsons said. Now it controls 45 percent of the domain-name market, he said.

This year’s audience could match last year’s if more viewers see it as an escape from a tough economy, said Dean DeBiase, chief executive officer of TNS Media.

“It’s something the country may gravitate towards more than they would in previous years,” DeBiase said. “Not only is it a sporting event, but it’s a social event for America.”

Pittsburgh, which had a 12-4 regular season record, aims to become the first team to win a sixth Super Bowl. The San Francisco 49ers and Dallas Cowboys also have five. The Steelers won their fifth in 2006, a 21-10 victory over the Seattle Seahawks seen by 90.7 million people on Walt Disney Co.’s ABC.

Steel Curtain

The team brings a built-in audience of fans who have followed Pittsburgh since the “Steel Curtain” defense in the 1970s, Ziangas said.

“Outside of the Dallas Cowboys there isn’t a team that has more national appeal than the Steelers,” said Ziangas.

Arizona is trying to win its first Super Bowl. Quarterback Kurt Warner, 37, will be making his third Super Bowl appearance. The first two were with the St. Louis Rams, including a victory in 2000 and loss in 2002.

“It’s a David vs. Goliath match-up,” said Ziangas.

Brad Adgate, director of research for Horizon Media Inc., a New York-based ad agency, predicts the game will draw more than 90 million viewers yet fall short of last year’s total.

“To do 97 million viewers is a tall order,” said Adgate, who counts NBC among his clients.

To contact the reporter on this story: Adam Satariano in San Francisco at

Last Updated: January 21, 2009 00:01 EST