2011 Super Bowl Ad Time Already 80% Sold. But Why?

Here we are, still in baseball season, and Fox has already sold 80% of next year’s Super Bowl advertising time. To call this unusually brisk sales would be a gross understatement, especially in view of previous years.

It took CBS, for example, three months longer to reach the 70% mark for this year’s game (i.e., in September). What’s more, many advertisers deserted the national ad buy to save money by going spot or regional. The network had to resort to last-minute discounting to finally unload all the advertising inventory. The Super Bowl before that, NBC had sold only 30% of its ad time by June. So what gives?

You’d think that a rotten economy would leave national advertisers with less money to spend in $3 million bursts, not more. But 2010’s Obama Recession is deeper than 2009’s Bush Recession, and in early 2008 the real estate and financial bubbles had not yet burst. Despite that, national advertisers are spending like it’s 2007.

You might say that maybe Fox Network did a better or more aggressive selling job than the two alphabet networks. But if their salesmanship’s that great, how come the last time Fox aired the Super Bowl – 2008 – it took them all the way to October to sell 90% of the air time?

You can’t say it’s the pricing. This past January, CBS had to resort to last-minute discounting to get its remaining air time sold. But Fox’s reported 80% sales are all at rate-card rate. They’re asking, and getting, between $2.8 and $3.0 million – call it an average of $2.9 million – for 30 seconds’ air time. That’s more than the previous discounted $2.5 million for this year’s game and about the same as NBC was getting for last year’s.

Television is no longer the humongous audience magnet it used to be. Former ratings blockbusters “Lost” and “24” were recently canceled due to lack of viewer interest, and “American Idol” is on the block for the same reason, as the Internet continues to eat away television viewership.

It may be that the paralyzing shock of last year’s financial trauma has morphed into a kind of normalcy. For example, Government…er, General Motors, having borrowed taxpayer dollars to run a national television campaign about how they paid back all the borrowed taxpayer dollars, will be returning with commercials for their surviving car lines.

This year’s Super Bowl drew an all-time high audience, reaching an average of 106.5 million viewers, which broke the record previously set by the “M*A*S*H” series finale back in 1983.

When you get down to it, the explanation may be very simple: The annual Super Bowl telecast has uniquely managed to defy the downward trends of television viewership. So maybe it’s just the audience.

One Comment

  • Johnathan Harroun on Sep 03, 2010 Reply

    Interesting article.. Would love to see more of this.. Awesome blog btw! Subscribed

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