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SPORTS GLUT IN FIRST QUARTER GIVES SUPER BOWL COMPETITION

NFL, Winter Olympics, Bowl Games Add Up to Lots of TV Inventory

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Super Bowl in Detroit in January or Winter Olympics in Torino, Italy, in February?
Super Bowl 06
One high-profile former Super Bowl advertiser, McDonald’s Corp., has already bowed out of this year's event. Another, Visa, says it hasn’t decided yet.

For many marketers, the surplus of big-time first-quarter sports TV inventory has created the luxury of choice. And with buyers estimating eight to ten spots remaining in the Super Bowl and 15% of the Olympics inventory left to sell, both markets are still open.

Sports glut
“Between Olympics, post-season NFL, Super Bowl and [the NCAA’s Bowl Championship Series] there’s a lot of sports ratings points out there,” said one sports buyer who looks at all the properties for his clients.

ABC recently informed buyers that the NFL has opened up additional Super Bowl inventory -- three spots, including one coveted, first-in-pod “A” position, according to a media buyer recently briefed on the game. The league’s decision to release additional spots strikes buyers as unusual. Occasionally in the past networks have held back inventory in an effort to tighten up supply and create a frenzy in the market; the new spots could also be a first-half floater pod that the network airs in case of an unexpected time out -- a player injury or a challenge to a ruling on the field.

Late game slots available
While most of the first-half inventory was sold for around $2.4 to $2.6 million, depending on pod position, most of the spots remaining are in time slots later in the game, likely airing in fourth quarter, which buyers expect to go for less than $2.4 million. Additionally, three half-hour pre-game positions remain, each of which tend to go for about $1 million. ABC Sports didn’t comment for this article.

“Unless we’re launching a new product or have a phenomenal piece of creative, it’s such a huge outlay of cash and we can get a lot more mileage in other places,” said one buyer who hasn’t yet bought a Super Bowl ad. “There’s the buzz around it but sometimes that’s not a good thing because people get afraid of the polls.”

One high-profile former Super Bowl advertiser, McDonald’s Corp., has already bowed out and another, Visa, says it hasn’t decided on the big game. Other advertisers, such as last year’s halftime sponsor, Ameriquest, perennial Bowl player Pepsi, Subway and sophomore entrant Emerald Nuts will be back.

“We kind of felt obligated [to return] because we won an Emmy for our Super Bowl spot last year,” said Brian Woods, chief marketing office at Ameriquest, speaking to Ad Age this week from the set for this year’s ad. His company’s extensive consumer research to help it focus its creative strategies found that Super Bowl viewers expect to be entertained.

Sprint Nextel, which is airing a pair of in-game ads, is this year’s halftime show sponsor. Ameriquest bowed out of a second-year option because it wanted to “spread the message over a longer period of time,” Mr. Woods said. “It was just a re-allocation of dollars.”

It advertised within the Sunday games all year long and sponsored the Rolling Stones tour. The Stones, this year’s halftime show, are not starring in Ameriquest’s Super Bowl ad despite appearances in the marketer’s earlier spots. But the rockers’ appearance at halftime could lend the marketer some “borrowed equity,” Mr. Woods said.

Why CIBAVision won’t be back
One player on the bench this year is CIBAVision, part of Novartis, which bought post-game spots in 2004 and a spot in the first pod of the 2005 game. The previous two years’ buys had helped the company launch new products; this year the game didn’t fit into its marketing plans, which used more interactive and contextual advertising to differentiate the product among targeted consumers and the eye-care community.

“Our objectives were different this year,” said Jeff Cohen, VP-marketing, contact lens and lenscare products. He noted that after last year’s spot the company ran a pay analysis and found the spot more than paid for itself in awareness and increased sales.

Incidentally, the brand CIBAVision launched during the game, O2 Optics, is a product targeting women in their teens to late 20s -- 26 was the “sweet spot” age. While it might initially seem illogical to sell such a female-oriented product in what’s traditionally been an environment dominated by beer, autos and fast food, Mr. Cohen said its research indicated the Super Bowl is a great spot to reach women. Women compose 50% of the Super Bowl audience and, more importantly, are the most likely to pay attention to commercials.

“Men are splitting their attention across the game, the commercials and the halftime show,” Mr. Cohen said. “It would be a very smart play for a brand that has a female audience to use the Super Bowl.”

Why Emerald of California will return
Diamond Walnuts this year will use the Super Bowl for the third time. Instead of following its usual path of advertising to moms during the holiday season, Diamond of California, a nearly 100-year-old farmers' cooperative, made a bold leap in 2004 when it decided to enter the $1.5 billion snack category. With a new brand, Emerald of California, Diamond designed a grab-and-go container and positioned the nuts as a hip snack with a series of quirky ads from Goodby, Silverstein & Partners, San Francisco, using the brand's initials, "E" and "N" paired with odd combinations such as "Egomaniacal Normans."

In 2004, the brand was distributed only in Northern California, and the ads ran on a regional buy on the Super Bowl. Last year, Emerald Nuts went national with a Super Bowl spot showing a dad eating the nuts and not wanting to share with his daughter. He claims that Santa won't come anymore, nor will the Easter Bunny or Unicorns. But after they show up in the room and chide him, he gives in.

A Diamond Walnut spokeswoman declined to give details about the 2006 Super Bowl spot, but said creative is an extension of the E and N theme. The Super Bowl commercials "established our brand," the spokeswoman said. "One reason we’re back is there was such positive response to our ad last year," she said.

The Super Bowl spot resulted in a 56% gain in sales. Diamond also was happy with the ensuing publicity from the ad. "Our ad was the subject of numerous newspaper articles -- including features in the nation's largest newspapers such as The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and The Boston Globe -- gaining more visibility for the Emerald brand," she said. Emerald was featured in 23 Super Bowl stories in the top 50 U.S. markets, gaining more than 7.6 million audience impressions for a publicity value of $346,000.

The company, which went public in July, plans to launch a line of trail mix. It ranks No. 3 in nut sales behind Planters, which dominates the category, and the group of private label nut brands that ranks No. 2 in the category.

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Alice Z. Cuneo contributed to this article.

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