NBC had "about a dozen or so advertisers" who had agreed to pay around $3 million for a 30-second spot, Mr. Winter said. NBC boldly announced in May that it would seek that sum, a steep hike from the $2.7 million Fox initially notched for half a minute of ad time on its 2008 Super Bowl broadcast. The News Corp. network was able to secure $3 million in particular instances, especially as ad time in the game began to sell out earlier than expected, people familiar with the buys said.
For its regular NFL Sunday Night Football games, which kicked off this month, NBC has been able to secure ad prices in the range of $400,000 to $700,000 per 30-second spot, according to one with knowledge of the deals.
Executives at the General Electric network have been "pleasantly surprised" by the "zeal at which the advertisers want to lock and load their positions in the Super Bowl," said Mr. Winter, who added NBC had approached the "mid-80% sell-out level." NBC had sold about 30% of the game as part of the upfront marketplace, when advertisers commit in advance to programs in the coming season.
In years past, Super Bowl ad sales gained momentum more toward the end of the year. These days, interest in live events that draw big audiences eager to watch the broadcast as it takes place -- thereby reducing the desire to fast-forward past advertising or watch the show days or hours later -- is making the Super Bowl an even hotter property, despite its astronomical cost. Fox was able to sell 90% of ad time in Super Bowl XLII by late October of last year.
Sales for the 2009 contest have been driven by automotive marketers and movie studios, said Mr. Winter. Anheuser-Busch (even with new ownership) is already on board for its usual coterie of humorous spots, and other beverage companies have demonstrated interest as well, he said. PepsiCo has been a longtime Super Bowl sponsor and Coca-Cola Co. has made a mark in the last two years. A Pepsi spokeswoman confirmed the company would be involved in 2009; a Coca-Cola spokeswoman declined to comment on the Super Bowl. This year, Coke won plaudits by running an ad featuring balloons from the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade vying for a bottle of its flagship drink.
Doing more than selling spots
Prices paid for ad time in the game can depend on a number of factors, said Mr. Winter, including position in the game or position in a specific commercial break. He said NBC Universal was looking to use the Super Bowl to sell ad packages across its properties, "not just selling this in isolation."
Marketers often try to wait out the Super Bowl ad-sales process in the hope is they might get a cheaper rate as the TV network hosting the broadcast grows more eager about selling out the event. That might not be an option as the big game draws near, Mr. Winter suggested.
As supply diminishes, he said, "We intend to raise the price as we get closer, not lower the price as we get closer. Why wouldn't you raise your price? Why would you lower it? I don't quite understand that theory of inventory."