Edward R. Erhardt, president of ESPN/ABC Sports Customer Marketing & Sales, said about 60% of the combined inventory of ABC and ESPN has been sold, with cost-per-thousand price increases in the mid-teens. Walt Disney Co. put its TV sports ad sales under a single division last September with Mr. Erhardt as its president.
"Given the quality of the upfront, there is greater demand for `Sunday Night Football' and `Monday Night Football,' " said Mr. Erhardt.
Media executives said packages consisting of one spot in each of the telecasts are going for $500,000 and up. Several media agencies, including Media Edge, Mediacom and SFM Media, all New York, have made significant football commitments on behalf of marketers such as AT&T Corp., Circuit City Stores, DaimlerChrysler's Chrysler, MCI WorldCom and Warner Bros.
ESPN/ABC Sports tried to differentiate its upfront packages by adding cross-media elements, cutting deals that included not only time on both TV networks but also ads on the networks' Web sites, on ESPN radio and in ESPN the Magazine.
"We are doing business with advertisers who are able to take advantage of all the assets we have," Mr. Erhardt said.
CBS and Fox Broadcasting Co., which also broadcast NFL football, have been making their own upfront ad deals. CBS has put together some packages that leverage its airing of next year's Super Bowl game.
Up to 40% of the NFL advertising inventory for each network is spoken for through renewal deals with automakers and beer marketers. The bulk of that market is expected to move sometime in the next two weeks.
While the overall TV market is still strong, media buyers believe if there is any weakness at all, it is with TV sports.
"If there is one market that is subject to softness, it's sports because of the Olympics," said Roy Currlin, senior VP-associate director of national TV for Initiative Media North America, New York.
The Sydney Summer Olympics will air on NBC in September. The unusual late summer schedule will pit the games against the start of the NFL season, which could damage Olympic ratings.
NFL UP 7% TO 11%
The competition could also affect NFL pricing, according to media executives, who believe pro football CPM increases will be in the range of 7% to 11%, lower than the general upfront programming market.
"There is too much inventory with football," said Jerry Solomon, who will soon retire as president of national broadcast at SFM Media, New York. "Did they sell out last year? No. The networks were still selling inventory at the end of the year. You also have Olympics dollars and election dollars to compete with. That is going to affect the average price by bringing it down."