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Super Bowl Advertisers Paid More, Got Less

NBC Worked Harder to Package Ads, but Ratings Were Down

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Will the advertisers of Super Bowl XLIII be happy in the knowledge that they paid more for less? NBC said it sold out its entire available ad inventory on the Super Bowl last night, notching $206 million, up from $186.3 million sold by News Corp.'s Fox for the 2008 game, according to TNS Media Intelligence. But ratings were down from last year's record-setting telecast on Fox.

NBC sold out its ad inventory, notching $206 million, but ratings were down from last year's game.
NBC sold out its ad inventory, notching $206 million, but ratings were down from last year's game.
According to media buyers, NBC's ability to sell the Super Bowl's high-priced ad time in the midst of a recession depended heavily on its ability to creatively package the pricey spots with other time from its sports properties. As to whether next year's game will command as high a price, consider the fact that after reaching as many as 97 million viewers last year, 2009's Super Bowl reached a more down-to-earth 94.5 million between 7 p.m. and 10 p.m., according to preliminary statistics from Nielsen Media Research.

NBC, riding the momentum from Fox's 2008 telecast of the event, aggressively went after a $3 million price tag for 30 seconds of advertising in last night's game. Initially, the network was quite successful, unloading around 85% of its ad inventory by October, and getting a dozen marketers to pay the full $3 million price. The last 15% proved to be more of a "tough slog," as NBC Sports President Dick Ebersol put it during a media conference call last week. All the spots did sell for $2.4 million or more, he said.

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Last-minute deals
The network said a total of 32 advertisers lined up for spots in Sunday's game. Clearly, however, NBC was selling up until nearly the last minute. PepsiCo snatched up another minute of time late last week, the better to accommodate a number of commercials touting new messages about its storied products. GoDaddy decided late Friday to buy another 30-second spot in the back half of the game. And Sprint announced its entrance late last week as well -- with a rerun of a commercial that has been airing for what seems like ages. An old 30-second spot from General Electric, NBC's parent, showed up late in the game, after GE had announced the purchase of only a single Super Bowl ad.

Throughout the latter part of the sales process, said one media buyer with knowledge of the negotiations, NBC was "trying to get creative," working to maintain a unit price of about $3 million, "but then they'll give you additional stuff in there to make you feel good on the unit price."

Networks typically find it easy to sell Super Bowl advertising; it only gets difficult toward the end, when the last five to 10 slots are left. It's not clear if CBS, which will air the game next year, will face an easier or harsher sales climate. But media buyers don't expect to see the brisk buying they did for this game and last year's. "I'd say it was an atypical year when Fox sold out" in 2008, said one buying executive. "That's the strongest I've seen it."

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