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Super Bowl Ads: Fox Seeks $4M for 30-Second Slot in Big Game

Network expects to be sold out before November, said sports ad-sales chief

Fox is seeking around $4 million for the privilege of running a 30-second spot in Super Bowl XLVIII, according to buyers and other executives familiar with the situation, a slight tick up from the average price secured by CBS – between $3.7 million and $3.8 million – in 2013.

The network has sold approximately 85% of its Super Bowl inventory, said Neil Mulcahy, executive vice president of sales for Fox Sports Media Group. He would not reveal the number of ad slots remaining, but a quick bout of math might suggest Fox has around 10 or so left, if the Super Bowl usually has between 60 and 65 30-second ad berths. One ad buyer familiar with the Super Bowl ad-sales process said the number of remaining slots could be as high as 12 or 15.

“As of today, right now, we should be sold out” before November, which is when Fox announced a sell out of Super Bowl inventory for its 2011 broadcast, Mulcahy said. Fox will broadcast Super Bowl XLVIII on Feb. 2 from MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J.

The ad buyer suggested Fox may only have sold as much as 75%, and could be lumping together completed deals along with those that are expected to be completed soon. This buyer suggested Fox was getting around $4 million for a 30-second spot in the first half of the game and around $3.8 million for a 30-second spot in the second half of the event. Mulcahy declined to comment on pricing.

The $4 million does not represent  a record price tag. CBS  said it sold some ads for $4 million in its recent broadcast of the Super Bowl. But the figures do suggest demand for what is arguably the premiere event on television continues as advertisers find it near-impossible to reach an audience as diverse and big as the Super Bowl’s.

Why such big prices? Even a slot in NBC’s “Sunday Night Football” comes in around $550,000 for half a minute of advertising, according to ad buyers.

Simply put, TV audiences have been whittled down, thanks to an ever-increasing amount of video content being issued from cable networks, digital studios and streaming purveyors such as Netflix and Amazon. With apologies to J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Lord of the Rings,”  the Super Bowl remains the one thing that binds them together, and advertisers seem willing to pay for the privilege.

“It’s incredible the way people are attracted to live sports, and certainly the NFL is at the top of that,” Mulcahy said. “You know exactly the audience you’re getting. You can figure out the kind of return on investment, because it’s always there.” Citing an independent research study conducted a few years ago, Mulcahy estimated a $4 million investment in the Super Bowl would bring a return of between $11 million and $12 million.

The slight rise in ad rates comes even though the CBS broadcast – during which the game was disrupted for about 35 minutes by a power outage – represented the first ratings dip for the event since 2005. An average of 108.4 million people watched the CBS broadcast in February, according to Nielsen, about 3% less than the average of 111.3 million who tuned into NBC’s Super Bowl telecast in 2012. Fox’s 2011 broadcast of the game secured an average viewership of 111 million.

The Super Bowl has since 2010 held the title of the most-watched program on television. That year, a CBS broadcast of the event reached 106.5 million viewers, beating the network’s 1983 telecast of the series finale of “MASH”as the biggest boob-tube draw in history by half a million viewers.

Many Super Bowl sponsors keep their participation mum until just weeks before the game, but one advertiser has already sounded its intentions. Intuit, a Mountain View, Calif., maker of financial-management products for small businesses, has said it will run a 30-second spot in the game featuring the winner of a contest in which small-business owners talk about their companies

Anheuser-Busch InBev, maker of Budweiser and a regular sponsor, is also expected to support the game, along with another veteran Super Bowl advertiser, PepsiCo, which is also sponsoring the halftime show in 2014. Auto companies represent by far the largest category sponsoring the game, Mulcahy said.

Fox’s parent, 21st Century Fox,  hopes to use the Super Bowl’s proximity to New York City to promote its broader portfolio of entertainment properties.  Fox Sports 1 will host a week of programming  before Super Bowl XLVIII from Times Square, Mulcahy said. The Fox broadcast network and several other TV properties are also expected to use Times Square as a base in the week before the game.

It’s possible Fox may seek higher prices as it seeks to sell its remaining ad inventory. While most advertisers buy a schedule of slots around primetime, the Super Bowl is a rarity in the world of TV ad sales where buyers can try to pick a specific time and place for their promotion to run, like the first ad in the first break of the game, or the first ad to run as the network returns to the game from half time. To secure such a request, however, the advertiser often has to pay more.

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