AT&T Drops 'Idol' Sponsorship

After a decade-long-plus run, “American Idol” has lost one of its major advertising sponsors: AT&T.

A Fox spokesperson said there are no plans to bring on another official sponsor to replace AT&T. The show’s 13th season debuted Jan. 15.

The phone company -- along with Ford Motor and Coca-Cola -- had been the three longtime official sponsors of the show: AT&T for 11 seasons; Ford and Coca-Cola were sponsors for 12 seasons. In the show’s first season (2002), the official phone sponsor was Cingular Wireless. The company eventually merged with AT&T Wireless.

At the height of the long run as the No. 1 TV show in the U.S., each of the sponsors shelled out a massive $50 million to $60 million on an annual basis in multiyear deals for traditional TV commercials, as well as big in-show branded entertainment/content efforts.

Initial sponsorships for the show started out in the $26 million range.

Ratings for “American Idol” have sunk in recent years -- from a high in 2006, (Season Five) of a Nielsen 12.4 adults 18-49 rating to a Nielsen 3.8 rating in 2013, its Season 12. “Idol” suffered from a number of reasons, including new competition from other TV singing contest programs.

Witnessing what Coca-Cola gained from the “Idol” exposure for more than decade, soft-drink competitor Pepsi stepped up to the plate in the fall of 2011 to spend major marketing dollars for the highly touted “X Factor” from executive producer/judge Simon Cowell.

As part of a hotly contested bidding war, Pepsi, according to media buying executives, drove the sponsorship deal price of the show well over the $50 million mark set by “Idol.”

For this current season, Ford Motor and “Idol” finalists will be featured in weekly Thursday night TV segments. Ford Motor-related content will also be available online. Ford will also launch an online promotion, offering fans a chance to win an “Idol” prize package.

Coca-Cola will offer up with a number of activities at retail outlets, behind-the-scenes content online at americanidol.com, and other marketing efforts.

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