Fox’s Super Bowl Ad Time Was Sold Out. Until it Wasn’t

Fox declared in November that it had sold all the advertising time available in its looming February 2 broadcast of Super Bowl LIV. But just this week, it found a little more.

After holding nearly two months’ worth of discussions, Fox and the National Football League have devised a way to add commercial inventory to an event that in most years limits the amount of advertising that can be shown. While Fox and the NFL had long planned this year to trim one ad break from each quarter of the 2020 game, the pair discovered demand from some key sponsors was so robust that it was hard to ignore.

“I’ve never been in a position like this,” says Seth Winter, executive vice president of sales for Fox Sports, in an interview Friday evening.

Fox has decided to create what executives call a “floating” commercial break that will allow for two 60-second ads from sponsors who have been longtime supporters of both Fox Sports and the NFL, Winter says. Since the network announced its sell out, he says, his sales team has been deluged with requests not only from advertisers still hoping to get in on the game, but from sponsors who were able to buy time but want to grab more so they can run longer commercials. Fox’s decision was reported previously by Advertising Age.

“We have a lot of people who are eager to expand their creative,” says Winter.

Many of the nation’s biggest advertisers have already announced their presence in the game. Anheuser-Busch InBev, PepsiCo’s Mtn Dew and Cheetos, Kellogg’s Pop-Tarts and Pringles and Audi will all run spots during the event. Adding to the hoopla: The presidential campaigns of both President Donald Trump and Democratic hopeful Michael Bloomberg are slated to air commercials. Despite previous reports that these political ads will run in their own isolated commercial breaks, a person familiar with the matter says the candidates’ ads will appear in the same pods as other marketers, but will be separated from more mainstream commercials by various promos for Fox programs.

Some observers might suggest the new ad unit will add to the overall swirl of promotional messages around the game. And yet, it will only appear during an unscheduled break in the game: a time out, a delay in game, or similar circumstance. To get the new “floater” into the mix, Fox agreed to eliminate half of the “billboards,” or in-game shout-outs to sponsors, slated to appear during the event in order to carve out time for the extra commercials, Winter says. The NFL has in recent months asked the networks that carry its games to cut back on the short call-outs to marketers of beer, razor blades and other staples of pigskin advertising, but the TV outlets often counter that their big-spending clients love them.

The novel commercial break surfaces after the NFL has pressed its TV partners to find ways to winnow down the number of interruptions of game time, in the belief that a rising generation of younger viewers has come to expect fewer commercial interruptions in its favorite pieces of content. In their place: on-screen “double boxes” that let viewers see a commercial roll along shots of the teams on the field; longer commercial pods but fewer breaks from game play; and short ads that surface at natural stoppages in game play.

Fox’s Winter says this year’s crop of Super Bowl sponsors is working to dazzle viewers, trying to get the biggest bang for its bucks (Fox has sought between $5 million and $5.6 million for 30 seconds of ad time in in its broadcast from Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, FL).  As such, many have sought longer ads – in increments of 45 seconds, 60 seconds and 90 seconds. Even when advertisers are buying 15-second berths, he says, they are in at least four cases tying them to longer commercials running elsewhere in the game. He expects “more than 28” Super Bowl commercial to be “long-form.”

In all, the Fox broadcast will feature the equivalent of 80 30-second ads, Winter says. CBS’ 2019 broadcast of Super Bowl LIII contained 91 in-game ads, including network promos, according to ad-tracker Kantar, while NBC’s 2018 broadcast of Super Bowl LII contained 86 commercials and promos.

Demand for slots in the game spotlights the new value Madison Avenue is placing on live sports broadcasts in an era when more viewers are migrating to streaming-video hubs. NFL games, NBA match-ups and other live sports continue to draw big audiences who can’t skip past commercials or ignore them. And while the sports leagues are trying to cut back on the number of interruptions fans have to endure, it seems like the people who help TV partners pay the bills are interested in a different dynamic.





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