Super Bowl Ads: NBC Has Sold 70% To 80% Of Inventory In Big Game

NBC has managed to sell approximately three-fourths of the high-priced advertising that will accompany its 2015 broadcast of Super Bowl XLIX. Now comes the hard part: selling the rest.

NBC has sold between 70% and 80% of the approximately 60 30-second spots that regularly appear during a Super Bowl broadcast, according to the estimates of one media buyer familiar with negotiations. This buyer said NBC may have between 15 and 18 30-second berths left, and suggested the network might face some headwinds in getting to the goal line.

Why? Well,  NBC is seeking a record price for time in the game – approximately $4.5 million for a 30-second spot, with a similar amount contributed to other NBC Sports properties. The figure represents an approximate 12.5% increase over prices sought by Fox for its 2014 broadcast of the pigskin classic.

Another buyer suggested NBC has been flexible, seeking between $4.2 million and $4.6 million for an ad berth. A person familiar with the network’s strategy said NBC was holding firm to the $4.5 million price tag, though it was offering a slight discount for advertisers who buy multiple spots. In that case, the person said, the price is only $4.4 million per 30 seconds.

“The Super Bowl ad-sales market remains strong,” NBC Sports said in a statement. A spokesperson declined to comment on the specifics of the network’s negotiations.

Last year at this time, Fox was able to sell about 85% of its inventory for Super Bowl XLVIII, an indication that NBC may be meeting with some resistance. Fox also received push-back from advertisers who resisted not only the $4 million price tag but also the requirement that sponsors also buy ad time on Fox Sports 1, the broadcast network’s sister cable outlet that launched last fall.

In August, Neil Mulcahy, executive vice president of sales for Fox Sports Media Group, suggested the network would be able to sell out inventory by November. Instead, Fox worked until early December to accomplish the task.

The market for TV-ad time sold against football has been choppier in recent months. In the annual advance ad-sales process known as the “upfront,” several buyers indicated they would press for narrower price increases for ads in football games. As of a few weeks ago, CBS had time to sell in both its Thursday and Sunday football broadcasts.

“The Super Bowl is still a healthy marketplace,” one media-buying executive said, “but I think this crazy four-year bull run is going to quiet down a bit this year. The Super Bowl is getting expensive.” This buyer suggested NBC may be willing in negotiations to reduce the amount of money required for ancillary NBC Sports advertising that would accompany as Super Bowl buy.

Most networks are able to sell 50% to 75% of their Super Bowl inventory quite handily. After all, the event has a number of incumbent sponsors – think PepsiCo and Anheuser-Busch InBev – who buy multiple spots every year. And automakers have been eager to advertise in the game for the past four years, resulting in a frenzy that draws big spenders ranging from Audi to General Motors to Chrysler to Jaguar to the Big Game. In 2014, car ads accounted for 13 and a half minutes of advertising in Fox’s broadcast, according to data from Kantar Media.

The elbow grease comes in trying to sell the last 25% to 30% of the ad stock. Changes in the economy can take a toll, and there is speculation that the NFL’s recent woes involving players caught up in incidents of domestic violence could tamp down enthusiasm for the sport. Already, Anheuser-Busch has expressed concern to the NFL about its handling of the issue, while PepsiCo and Verizon have appeared to stand firm with the league.

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