ABC Bowls 'Em Over, Garners Super Sales

With four and a half weeks to go, ABC's "Super Bowl XL" is in the same strong advertising sales position now that it held three years ago when it last had the big game--all thanks to some late but brisk pre-Christmas week activity, according to the company.

"We had a great week--with movies, automobiles, financial, insurance and dot.coms companies [buying Super Bowl spots]," said Ed Erhardt, president of ESPN/ABC Sports customer marketing and sales.

Executives say that ABC is 85 percent to 90 percent sold, with anywhere from 7 to 10 30-second units left to sell. Erhardt would only say: "We have one 15-second spot in the first half, and some availability in the fourth quarter." He added that ABC is on the same pace now as when it had the game three years ago.

"If they have ten spots left now, it's nowhere near an emergency yet," said Larry Novenstern, executive vp and director of national electronic media, Optimedia International. "That's standard." "Super Bowl XL" will take place February 5 in Detroit.



Executives close to ABC say this year's Super Bowl has seen a price hike of some 5 percent to 7 percent from the 30-second commercial price of $2.4 million that Fox received when it had the game last year. This year's game would hold a new record average price of $2.52 million to $2.57 million for a 30-second Super Bowl commercial.

One veteran movie studio media executive said he paid some 5 percent more than a year ago. But that should be taken with a grain of salt--movie companies typically pay the highest pricing levels for Super Bowl inventory, as well as other network programming. He suggested that ABC could be getting 5 percent to 6 percent more for its commercials than Fox for its first-half game inventory--the most prized inventory in the game.

Average Super Bowl pricing is naturally different than what some individual advertisers might have paid for a single Super Bowl commercial. That could be as high as $2.6 million to $2.7 million for one first-half spot, or as low as $2.0 million for lesser-valued fourth-quarter inventory.

Overall, one media buying executive believes the Super Bowl price hikes are smaller than some suggest--or even flat versus a year ago--because the current TV advertising scatter market is weak.

Additionally, NBC's Torino Winter Olympics--which airs in late February--has sucked up major TV advertising sports dollars.

Erhardt wouldn't discuss specific pricing, but noted that the key ten first-half "A" positions advertisers typically go after have been in demand and sold out for some time. Priced at the highest levels, an "A" spot is the first commercial that runs in a commercial pod, which can consist of three of four spots. Research has shown that "A" spots are the most remembered by TV viewers.

For years, Super Bowl prices have been a complicated story to tell--which continues this year. Because TV advertisers can buy a package of game spots, along with lower-priced pre-show inventory, or non-sports network inventory, or in upfront network deals made last June, effective Super Bowl pricing can be lower than might appear in press accounts.

ABC says a wide variety of advertisers bought the Super Bowl this year--movie studios, automakers, food companies, men's personal products, financial and insurance services, and Internet companies. Those companies include: Anheuser-Busch, PepsiCo, Pizza Hut, General Motors, Ford Motor, Gillette, and

Because the event is held in Detroit, many automakers have increased their presence in the big game.

"It has never been a big event for the autos," said Optimedia's Novenstern. "Typically, automotive makers may buy 18 to 20 units in a regular season NFL game that has 60 commercial units. But autos typically buy only 4 to 6 spots in the Super Bowl. They might have 10 to 12 in this Super Bowl."

The biggest change for ABC this time around is with While the big sports Web site normally does good advertising business around the Super Bowl, this year with its sister network airing the game, the Web site has hit a gold mine.

" has tripled its business versus three years ago when ABC last had the game," said Erhardt. ESPN/ABC customer sales and marketing sold special Super Bowl Web pages to advertisers, among other marketing tools.

Erhardt suggests that the biggest change in viewing the game comes from new high-definition TV sets. He estimates some 12 percent of U.S. TV homes will have an HD TV set and HD service.

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