FOX KEEPS PACE WITH GRIZZLED VETS FOR FOOTBALL DEALS

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The 1994 NFL season had its first network TV ad sales scrimmage last week, and rookie Fox Sports looked to have a shot at making the all pro team.

More than $130 million in domestic and import car category ad budgets is believed to have been committed toABC, NBC and Fox.

It's unclear what share of the market each network got, but Fox is believed to have written more than $50 million in deals with Chrysler Corp., Ford Motor Co., General Motors Corp., American Honda Motor Co. and Toyota Motor Sales USA.

Fox, which wrested broadcast rights from CBS for National Football Conference games starting this fall, is said to have written deals based on CBS' delivery last season-about a 14 Nielsen rating for regular season games-with a slight increase over the ad rates CBS charged. This may be a tribute to the fact that Fox demonstrated it's serious about football by signing former CBS analyst John Madden and former Dallas Cowboys coach Jimmy Johnson.

Fox is believed to be getting about $120,000 per 30-second spot, though buyers said the range could be between $60,000 and $200,000 depending on the package and what point in the season the spots air.

Post-season games are believed to be fetching as much as $400,000 a :30.

Fox's early NFL sales strength is surprising because the network is unproven in sports coverage and because the NFL has yet to announce the networks' schedules for the season.

However, most buyers expect the NFL to provide Fox with a choice mix of games and believe that Fox's NFC matchups should perform better than NBC's American Football Conference coverage.

One agency media buyer who asked not to be identified said: "The NFL has a history of favoring new networks in its contract."

ABC, meanwhile, is believed to be close to sold out for "NFL Monday Night Football," despite asking for a 15% price increase to $300,000 per :30.

However, many of ABC's deals are multiyear renewals, such as in the beer category, where Anheuser-Busch and Miller Brewing Co. have annual commitments guaranteed through the 1995-96 season.

The beer category is believed to be active with NBC and Fox, too, though it was unclear whether beer deals were closed with those networks.

However, industry executives said Fox has signed Levi Strauss & Co.'s Dockers line to a sponsorship deal for its halftime show. Dockers had a similar deal with CBS in past seasons. Fox is also believed to have a commitment from Dr Pepper/Seven-Up Cos.

Although the sports upfront and the recent strong kids upfront historically don't have a bearing on the general upfront marketplace, the early momentum for the 1994-95 season appears to be a harbinger.

"The rest of the upfront should be a little bit stronger than the last couple of years," said a top agency media buyer, referring to the prime-time, daytime, late-night and news markets scheduled to break later this spring.

The executive said his agency estimates there is "8% to 10% more money in the marketplace this year. If the networks are realistic in their pricing, they should do very well. If not, we still have other alternatives."

ABC is believed to be positioned for a particularly aggressive pricing strategy this season because of its strong momentum in prime-time ratings.

Generally, the prime-time and daytime marketplace doesn't move until June, after the networks announce their prime-time schedules. But buyers said "pre-upfront" conversations have already begun to heat up for those dayparts.

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