Heavy Sports Advertisers Take A Super Bowl Pass

Just about every rabid sports fan watches the Super Bowl, so it would seem logical that the giant marketers targeting them would welcome an all-at-once platform. But, for the most part, they seem to believe their resources could be better applied.

By one metric, Nielsen data shows 80% of the highest-spending sports advertisers steered clear of the big game in 2012, while 90% took a pass the year before. (Some may have bought spots before and after kick-off.)

Media executives talk about reach and frequency. By taking a pass on reaching 111 million viewers – with some huge percentage of them sports junkies – sports marketers would seem to be giving an endorsement to frequency. The implication is repetitive spending on ESPN or sponsoring a NASCAR race or floating a blimp above the World Series or backing a halftime show may prove more effective.

Over a 12-month period running from late 2011 through most of 2012, AT&T Wireless spent $342.8 million on sports programming (national broadcast and cable TV) -- more than any other advertiser. Bud Light followed at $213.3 million.



Next came Verizon Wireless ($195.5 million), followed by Geico ($166.1 million), DirecTV ($157.8 million), Sprint Wireless ($146.4 million) and McDonald’s ($134.5 million). Chevrolet Silverado finished sixth ($126.1 million), followed by Subway ($114.3 million) and Visa ($99.1 million) to close out the top 10.

Just two – Bud Light and Chevy – ponied up to be in the 2012 Super Bowl. Bud Light makes an annual appearance. Chevy has a history, too, though parent General Motors dropped out during the recession and won’t be there this year as its former CMO deemed the game too expensive.

Go back to the 2011 game. Only one of the highest-spending sports advertisers for a 12-month period running from late 2010 through most of 2011 showed up in the Super Bowl. Again, it was Bud Light.

During that period, AT&T Wireless ($423.5 million) again was the largest spender with Bud Light ($210.2 million) in second, followed by Verizon Wireless ($207.7 million). McDonald’s was fourth ($164.9 million) and DirecTV was fifth ($160.5 million), according to the Nielsen rundown.

Geico ($158.1 million) and Sprint Wireless ($147.4 million) were in the top 10 again in sixth and seventh place. The final three were Southwest Airlines ($143.5 million), State Farm ($127.5 million) and Miller Lite ($126.6 million).

Miller Lite would surely be in the Super Bowl if Anheuser-Busch didn’t have exclusivity. Surprising is Geico, which is impossible to avoid while watching sports, annually sits out the game. Humorous ads work well and Geico specializes there – or at least makes lots of attempts in that direction.

Insurance is a huge TV ad category and yet it has a rare – Met Life was there last year – presence in the Super Bowl. Besides Geico, State Farm and Allstate have taken the game off.

The leaders in the wireless category have for the most part, too. Maybe there’s a sort of unspoken non-aggression pact as AT&T, Verizon and Sprint all have recently stayed out of the game.

This isn’t to say all large sports spenders punt on the Super Bowl. Coke and Pepsi face off there annually and so many auto marketers embrace it. So does GoDaddy, which may have built its brand via Super Bowl spots.

Smaller advertisers that use the Super Bowl to make a splash with a stunt might be thankful so many big-time sports marketers take a pass. Otherwise, there may not be much room for them.


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