ABC NEARS A TOUCHDOWN IN SUPER BOWL AD SALES

Only Six TV Spots Left to Sell; Average Price Is $2.1 Million

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LOS ANGELES (AdAge.com) -- With two weeks to go, Walt Disney Co.'s ABC is in good shape selling Super Bowl XXXVII, according to media agency executives, with its average price for a 30-second commercial
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at $2.1 million, up 10% over a year ago. Only six spots are left to sell.

The remaining commercials are in the fourth quarter, which is typical this close to game day. ABC has sold 55 spots so far.

Fourth-quarter risk
Buying fourth-quarter commercials can be tricky. If the score is lopsided late in the game, viewers then tend to tune out, which is why most advertisers try to score first-half placement.

"If you buy a fourth-quarter spot, you'll still get a great game," said Ed Erhardt, president of ESPN/ABC Sports Customer Marketing and Sales, pointing to a number of recent NFL and college bowl games where ratings were higher in the second half.

The network's $2.1 million average price for this year's game equals the highest average price ever for a Super Bowl, which came in 2000 when ABC last had the Super Bowl. In that game, 22 dot-com advertisers spent lavishly, with two long-gone companies dishing out $3 million each for 30-second spots, the highest individual sales for spots of that length ever.

Always a ratings champ
In spite of the high cost, media executives still praise the value of the game, which is always the highest-rated TV event of the year. For the last two years -- on News Corp.'s Fox in 2002 and Viacom's CBS in 2001 -- the games posted the same Nielsen Media Research 40 rating/61 share.

"I'm surprised the game has lost very little," said Larry Novernstern, senior vice president and director of national broadcast for Interpublic Group of Cos.' Deutsch, New York. "With all the [ratings] erosion in network, there has been far less erosion with the Super Bowl. It's still a tremendous value."

This average price is 10% higher than the $1.9 million tag last year on Fox, according to Advertising Age estimates. ABC benefited from an overall strong TV market, which has seen scatter prices rise 12% to 15% higher than upfront pricing.

Narrow price range
Ad agency executives and Mr. Erhardt concur that the price range for the Super Bowl this year was "narrower." No advertiser paid $3 million per spot, and none negotiated a $1.5 million bill.

"They must be trying to hold their pricing," said Mel Berning, president-U.S. broadcast at Bcom3 Group's Mediavest Worldwide, New York, "because the units are still there" to sell. As a result, ABC is "not able to range their numbers dramatically."

Mr. Erhardt said 60% of the Super Bowl deals were packaged with other ABC or ESPN sports programming.

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