Super Bowl Ads: Fox Ties Buys

Ad packaging slows pace of event's sales; Fox optimistic on market demand

The soon-to-launch cable sports outlet, Fox Sports 1, will not broadcast the Super Bowl next year. Yet executives behind the scenes are making a play for the new network to get its share of Super Bowl advertising dollars.

The Fox broadcast network – a sister to Fox Sports 1 – will televise Super Bowl XLVIII on February 2, 2014 from MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J. To get one of the valuable ad slots available during the network’s broadcast of the game, sponsors have been told they must buy time in other Fox Sports content, according to ad buyers. – with emphasis placed on Fox Sports 1. The sports cable network is slated to launch August 17 in more than 90 million homes with more than 5,000 hours of programming that include broadcasts of college football, college basketball, NASCAR, soccer and UFC.

Using the Super Bowl to gain ad support for other sports properties has become de rigeur in recent years, according to one buyer. Both NBC and CBS tied the purchase of Super Bowl ad time to buying a broader package of ad inventory in sports content. This wrinkle surfaces as all the broadcasters save ABC (whose parent already owns ESPN) develop flanking sports outlets on cable. Both CBS and NBC operate cable networks devoted to sports content, and now Fox is set to join them.

“For the past two years, in addition to buying a unit in the game, there has been a need to support other sports properties within the network’s respective media groups. A couple of years ago, NBC required it. Last year, CBS required it. And this year is no different,” said one ad buyer with knowledge of the tone of Super Bowl ad talks. “Clearly, FS1 is a priority for them,” the buyer added.

To be sure, Fox is open to the purchase of ad packages that do not include FS1, such as the Super Bowl pre-game show, this buyer said, but the emerging network is getting most of the spotlight in pitches to advertisers.

As a result of the packaging, Fox’s Super Bowl ad sales may be pacing behind last year’s effort from CBS, according to ad buyers. By May 30 of last year, CBS had sold more than 50% of its inventory

“We’re anticipating a very healthy marketplace for the NY/NJ Super Bowl in 2014,” a Fox Sports spokesman said in a statement sent by e-mail.

Selling the first 60% to 70% of TV’s gridiron classic is a relatively easy task, so long as the economy is stable. By the time a network gets done booking the usual supporters of the game – think Anehuser-Busch InBev, which has a multi-year deal to support the Super Bowl; PepsiCo, which advertises both its Pepsi sodas as well as its Frito-Lay snacks; movie studios, who often use the Super Bowl broadcast to debut trailers for coming Spring and Summer releases; and, in recent years, a horde of automobile manufacturers – a good chunk of the contest is sold.

Unloading the last 25% to 30% of the event is the challenge, according to ad buyers and network sales executives.

CBS won an average price of between $3.7 million and $3.8 million for a 30-second ad in 2013’s broadcast of Super Bowl XLVII. Ad buyers have not determined an average unit price for the 2014 event, but suspect Fox will seek to raise the price. The network has already used the game’s presence in the New York market as one way to make the game seem more attractive during sales pitches, according to buyers

As TV viewership splinters thanks to technological advancements such as video on demand, digital video recorders and mobile devices, the Super Bowl has been accorded new value by advertisers. It remains one of the few TV properties that continues to draw an outsize audience that is nearly impossible to duplicate with any other media property. CBS’s 2013 broadcast was seen by an average of 108.41 million viewers, compared with 111.3 million a year ago when NBC broadcast the games.

Ad buyers do not expect the year-over-year ratings decline to affect the price of the 2014 game. CBS’s broadcast was interrupted by an electrical blackout that delayed the game between the Baltimore Ravens and San Francisco 49ers that lasted more than 30 minutes.

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