A-B SHELLS OUT RECORD PRICE FOR '99 SUPER BOWL: $2 MIL PER :30 IS 54% HIGHER THAN AVERAGE RATE FOR THIS YEAR'S GAME

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The most expensive commercials in the history of TV won't be for the "Seinfeld" finale, but for next year's Super Bowl.

Anheuser-Busch is putting the finishing touches on a deal that will see it pay $20 million for exclusivity in the beer category and 10 Super Bowl spots -- $2 million for each 30-second commercial.

While NBC went to market asking $2 million for a :30 in "Seinfeld," buyers report the network is getting no more than $1.7 million to $1.8 million.

54% RATE INCREASE

The A-B spots on Super Bowl XXXIII, to be aired by Fox Broadcasting Jan. 31, 1999, represent a whopping 54% increase from the $1.3 million many advertisers paid for a :30 in this year's big game.

For A-B, however, the increase is 74% more than the $1.15 million NBC insiders said the brewer paid for its exclusive beer spots in this year's telecast. A-B ran eight spots in January's Super Bowl, at a cost to the beer marketer of $9.2 million.

A-B, which handles its media in-house, declined comment.

Fox also is remaining mum, but an executive close to the situation said, "Anheuser-Busch was forced to the mat by Miller."

Miller Brewing Co. has been an official NFL sponsor that has had to content itself with advertising on pre- and post-game shows on Super Bowl Sunday, as A-B has sewn up in-game beer exclusivity year after year.

This year, the executive said, Miller -- through its media buying shop, Starcom Media Services, Chicago, a division of Leo Burnett Co. -- decided "on a very smart strategy: that it would either get on the game or make it very, very expensive for Anheuser-Busch."

Miller already has a major relationship with regular-season NFL games on Fox, thanks to a four-year, $300 million partnership it inked with the network last year.

That brewery's official comment about advertising on next year's Super Bowl was only that the company had expressed interest in getting on the game. Starcom referred calls to Miller.

NOT A BENCHMARK

While Fox, no doubt, would love to use the $2 million as a benchmark for what it can charge other advertisers for the Super Bowl, most media executives contacted for this story said such a plan would be problematical.

"It would only work in a category where at least two advertisers really want category exclusivity and would be willing to get in a bidding war to get it, and that's a tough scenario," said one media buyer who specializes in sports.

"Most advertisers won't go for a 54% increase for the Super Bowl," added another buyer.

News of the big A-B deal comes as Fox is out in the marketplace looking for regular-season NFL increases of 18% to 24% from last year.

Last month, A-B signed a $120 million ad deal for ABC's "NFL Monday Night Football" (AA, March 2). That deal is for half-game exclusivity; Miller also usually advertises on the program.

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