While TV bidding for the coming years of the Bowl Championship Series has already begun, this year's New Year's college football game event--mostly aired by Fox--is still a question mark in terms of advertising sales.
"It's a tough time of year for most to advertise, right after the holidays, so the options for BCS are usually few," says one veteran media agency executive. "It will be worse this year. [Because] of the lack of financial [advertisers], it could be a rough year for the BCS."
Right now, Fox's long-term multi-year deals account for 75% of its inventory--around 50 spots a game--which are sold. The games include the Cotton Bowl, Fiesta Bowl, Sugar Bowl, Orange Bowl, and the BCS Championship Game. ABC airs the Rose Bowl contest, also part of the BCS series.
Given the weakening TV ad marketplace, Fox might not garner much of a cost-per-thousand viewer [CPM] increase from advertisers for the remaining inventory. Last year, media executives say Fox charged up to $500,000 for a 30-second commercial in one of its three BCS games and up to $950,000 for a 30-second spot in the Allstate BCS Sugar Bowl championship game.
A Fox spokesman says its big category of advertisers--automotives--have not asked for changes or cutbacks for their deals, although many struggling carmakers have backed out of other high-profile TV events. Auto agreements are four years in length and expire after next year--the same time that Fox's deal with the BCS ends. Fox's automotive makers' deals are with General Motors, Ford Motor, Chrysler, and Nissan Motors.
Other advertisers that have multi-year deals include AT&T, title sponsor of the Cotton Bowl; Anheuser Busch; Taco Bell; DirecTV; Gatorade; Allstate Insurance, title sponsor of the Sugar Bowl; Tostitos, title sponsor of the Fiesta Bowl; and FedEx, title sponsor of the Orange Bowl and the 2009 BCS National Championship Game.
Media executives say Fox is at a high sellout level right now because title game sponsors are required to make media buys in the other games as well. Still, with about two months, Fox still has a long way to go, according to one veteran media buyer. Fox would not discuss any other possible BCS deals.
In addition to financials, another iffy category could be the movie studios that buy into big male-dominated sporting events during the first of the year. Since many films have pushed their opening dates farther into 2009, Fox and others may not have the benefit of that revenue.
Although sports TV ad market deals are somewhat insulated from other TV advertising/programming deals, executives note that the general national TV scatter market has all but come to a stop, and that could affect possible BCS deals. TV ad inventory is wide open, and rates are about the same levels--or somewhat lower--as upfront program deals made last June.
Reports say that Walt Disney's ESPN has made a $125 million-a-year bid for a four-year deal for the Fox portion of the BCS games. Currently, Fox pays an $82.5 million yearly rights fee, and has proposed a 25% increase to $102 million.