CBS scores with NFL ad sales

50% of inventory already sold; rate increases double-digit

NEW YORK — So far, at least, the Eye’s $4 billion gamble on NFL football appears to be paying off.

CBS has sold about 50% of its NFL ad inventory for next season, snagging double-digit rate increases on most deals, according to network insiders.

Despite gloomy advance projections, CBS is getting CPM increases “in the mid-teens,” sources at the network said. Some deals have been closed for as much as 30% above what advertisers were paying last season.

In addition, about 30% of the ad inventory sold so far represents new money to AFC games, network insiders estimate.

When all the figures are in, CBS insiders expect total ad revenue to be up at least 20% over what NBC sold last season. The Peacock web generated an estimated $290 million in NFL regular season sales last season, according to published reports.

CBS also has lined up marquee sponsorship deals for its pre-game and halftime shows.

Southwest Airlines will be the chief sponsor of the Eye web’s “NFL Today” pre-game program, while NASDAQ has inked a deal to present the weekly halftime report for CBS’ AFC games, according to insiders at the network. Neither company had committed ad dollars to AFC regular- season games last season.

The NASDAQ deal, worth an estimated $14 million to CBS, features a unique entitlement tied to the company’s sponsorship of college football on the network. CBS will promote Saturday’s “NASDAQ College Football” games during Friday-night episodes of “Nash Bridges” with spots that will include a mention of the week’s closing NASDAQ stock exchange figure.

CBS has been pushing a mantra of “parity” in its presentation to ad buyers, noting the ratings gap between AFC games on NBC and higher-rated NFC games on Fox closed to just 3% last season. With the quality of teams in the AFC becoming more on par with those in the traditionally dominant NFC, Eye execs believe their AFC games can achieve ratings equal to Fox’s NFC matchups.

“The whole ratings gap has collapsed,” said one CBS insider.

Some advertising sources, as well as execs at other networks, are skeptical of CBS’ numbers. They believe the web will get CPM increases in the mid-single digits, with some buyers squeezing out discounts.

There’s also buzz in the ad community that some buyers are tying network ad buys to purchases at CBS-owned stations. Insiders at the network say no such linkage has occurred.

CBS sources said the network is well on its way to turning a profit on its 8-year football deal, backing up public claims by execs at the network that CBS will make money on football.

“We wouldn’t trade places with NBC for anything,” said one CBS source, referring to the Peacock’s loss of the AFC package.

But one exec at NBC scoffed at the notion that CBS would end up in the black on the deal.

“They’ll lose at least $100 million,” the exec said.

The response from CBS?

“They have no choice but to say we’re going to lose money, or else they look like the dumbest people on earth,” chided a network insider.