Could Mitt Romney really be ceding a big Olympic stage to President Obama? Could he really be allowing Obama a prime opportunity to wrap himself in the flag and reach millions of viewers alone?
In a deal with NBCUniversal, the Obama campaign has placed a $6 million national Olympic ad buy. The arrangement will have the campaign running a prime-time spot for 15 straight nights on NBC, beginning Friday during the Opening Ceremony.
The NBCU deal also includes a run of daytime spots, which could help reach a female target.
The Romney campaign? So far, nothing is scheduled to run coast to coast, according to an NBCU political file.
The Obama campaign's deal has it paying $340,200 per prime-time spot on NBC. The 30-second ads are scheduled to run each night of the London Games, save the final one with the Closing Ceremony. Total prime-time cost: $5.1 million.
Beyond prime time, the Obama campaign has also scheduled at least one spot each day on the Monday-Friday daytime coverage on NBC. Cost: $32,300 a unit.
In total, the Obama campaign has bought 35 Olympic spots on NBC. The plan also includes a pair of ads on weekend afternoons at $123,400 a unit -- along with four on weekend early mornings at $19,500 a spot.
The unit prices employ a type of candidate rate. Per FCC rules, a campaign is entitled to pay a comparable price to other advertisers, outside a 60-day window before an election.
A source indicated the $340,200 the Obama campaign is paying in prime time is about half of what other advertisers are paying NBC.
The Obama media plan also includes 20 spots on NBCU cable properties – including Bravo, CNBC and the NBC Sports Network – at $6,000 each across various dayparts.
All spots are scheduled for 30 seconds and do not come with audience guarantees, which commercial advertisers can obtain.
The NBCU political file indicates there was some discussion about the Obama campaign also making an approximately $600,000 buy for ads on NBCOlympics.com, but that fell through. Obama campaign agency GMMB inked the deal with NBCU.
There is still time for Romney to reach an agreement with NBCU. Why would he take a surprising pass? In late June, Seth Winter, who heads Olympic sales at NBCU, told the New York Times, he expected to ink a deal with the GOP candidate's campaign.
Certainly, money can’t be a hindrance since both campaigns have raised enough to buy out a few Super Bowls. In 2008, both Obama and opponent Sen. John McCain made Olympic buys with NBCU, with McCain actually spending more than Obama with a $6 million deal.
National ad buys on broadcast networks are extremely unusual for presidential candidates, especially in the red-state, blue-state era. It's possible Romney has, or will, make an Olympic buy with local NBC stations in swing states, figuring that's a more efficient strategy. That’s what pro-Romney super PAC, Restore Our Future, did with a $7.2 million buy in 11 states, saying it wanted to fight back against the Obama effort.
The Romney campaign did not provide immediate comment about any Olympic advertising plans.
Obama for America is the only entity to cut a national deal with NBCU. No ads from well-funded super PACs are scheduled, though NBCU may have turned them down, wanting to avoid overly divisive themes within programming that seeks to promote a degree of unity.
Of course, during Olympic broadcasts, a rush of patriotism can emerge when a U.S. swimmer comes from behind for gold or a wounded gymnast successfully lands a vault. Could that have a rub-off effect on a candidate who runs a spot nearby? If so, probably just momentarily.
Election day is more than three months away. Romney may be saving up, realizing it’s still a marathon not a sprint.