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Ad spot on NFL a hot commodity

75% of time likely to be sold by end of August

Advertising spots in NFL games on CBS, Fox, NBC and ESPN are selling faster now than they were last year, and as much as 75% of the time is likely to be sold by the end of August.

Average increases are in the high single digits.

One reason sales are so brisk is that a strong economy has helped pump up the demand among automakers, telcos, financial services, beer distributors, restaurants and movie companies.

Another factor is that last year, the NFL upf nfl09-01vront was thrown into confusion as ABC bowed out of “Monday Night Football” in favor of its ESPN sibling, and NBC got back into football by taking over the Sunday-night slot previously held by ESPN.

“Last year at this time, there was a lot of skepticism in the marketplace, a wait-and-see attitude” said Seth Winter, senior VP of NBC Sports. “Buyers were worried that football fatigue would set in by the time NBC came on the air in primetime.” The fear was that NFL fans would overdose on the Fox and CBS afternoon doubleheaders.

But the solid NBC Sunday ratings in 2006 laid to rest the football-fatigue theory, backed up by the 10% increases Winter said the network is hauling in so far. “We converted the skeptics,” he said.

All four nets showed gains in total viewers for their NFL games last year, ranging from ESPN’s 38% jump on Monday over its Sunday cablecasts in 2005 to CBS’ 1% increase on Sunday afternoon.

Tony Taranto, senior veep of NFL sales for CBS, said he’s piling up orders from Madison Avenue at least in part due to a carryover from “a very good upfront” engineered by CBS for its primetime-entertainment schedule last month.

Some of CBS’ biggest ad buyers are Ford, Sprint, General Motors, AT&T and Chrysler, said Taranto. Three of NBC’s leading sponsors, said Winter, are Anheuser-Busch, Southwest Airlines and Coors beer.

A spokesman for Fox said its salespeople are still signing deals “as the marketplace heats up this summer” in a “very healthy” climate.

ESPN averaged better ratings in its rookie season as the network of “Monday Night Football” than in its previous years as keeper of the Sunday-primetime flame. As a result, said a spokes-woman, ESPN is already more than 50% sold out through an “aggressive” sales strategy.

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