Commercial time averaging $2.25 million

NEW YORK — With Super Bowl Sunday less than three weeks away, CBS has sold roughly 85% of its advertising inventory. Average price for the bowl’s prized 30-second spots looks to be about 10% more than last year’s $2 million averages on ABC, according to media buyer insiders.

Since few advertisers ever pay retail rates and sellers typically exaggerate, fixing on an exact number is tricky. Trade paper Ad Age on Monday reported commercial time for the Feb. 1 event in Houston was averaging $2.25 million, with some 15% of total available time (in-game and pre-game slots) still to be sold. In a presentation to a Smith Barney investment conference last week, Viacom indicated its Super Bowl ad spots were selling at prices 14% above the 2003 game, at around $2.4 million per 30-second spot.

Either way, the uptick is a good omen for the Eye’s 2004 ad prospects and proof that advertisers still will fork out the big bucks for the prospect of reaching a mass audience. Last year’s Super Bowl telecast averaged 89 million viewers.

CBS refused to disclose its current tally on advertisers or prices. It’s known to be aggressively shopping remaining slots in the third and fourth quarters of the game, as well as pre-game slots. Prices in those positions typically dip below $1.8 million, buyers say.

The NFL mega-game has become a showcase for flashy ad campaigns for big-ticket beer, auto and soft-drink advertisers.

Follow @Variety on Twitter for breaking news, reviews and more