Super Bowl

Local Scramble for Super Bowl Ad Time After Fox Sells Out

Broker Tries to Cobble Local Buys Together as Marketers Snap Up Inventory Across U.S.

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- One of the bolder Hail Mary passes in the history of Super Bowl advertising may be heading for an interception.

With national ad inventory for the Super Bowl sold out on Fox, a Scranton, Pa., ad buyer has been trying to assemble enough ad time from local stations carrying the game to let a marketer reach 90% of the U.S. households watching.

The buyer, Major Media President Rick Freeman, has been offering a cobbled-together 90% Super Bowl buy with a web ad describing a "30 Sec Spot Available For The Big Game on Feb 6th, 2011 In Dallas, TX In Game!"

The ad asked prospective takers whether they have "immediately available funds of approximately $4 million" to pay for it. The $4 million, about $1 million more than the top price Fox had sought for the national commercials it sold during the game, is simply a starting point for negotiations, Mr. Freeman said.

Bur the whole scramble may be for naught. National commercial time during the Super Bowl sold out so early -- Fox said sales were complete all the way back in October -- that marketers that were excluded are trying to scrounge up local time themselves, Mr. Freeman said.

"There are apparently two or three major advertisers who are snapping up the spots nationally, and are doing exactly what my client was doing, and that's putting together a local buy," Mr. Freeman said. At least one automotive advertiser is "snapping up pretty much everything," he said ad-sales executives at major-market TV stations have told him.

That's not the only potential hurdle for Mr. Freeman's quest. News Corp., which owns about 10 Fox network stations in addition to the Fox network itself, would likely press its local outlets to abstain from his attempt to weave together a "national" Super Bowl buy, according to a person familiar with the situation. The TV networks pay astronomical sums to for rights to carry the Super Bowl, of course, and have many reasons to try controlling the business that surrounds it.

If Fox stations stayed away from Mr. Freeman's attempt to roll up a national buy, his advertiser might wind up excluded from valuable markets such as New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Dallas, Washington, Houston, Phoenix, Minneapolis, Orlando and Baltimore, where News Corp. owns the local Fox station. Those cities would also appear to represent more than 10% of the country's viewers.

Fox hasn't told him about any problem with his plan, however, Mr. Freeman said. "I have not heard that from Fox," he said.

Going local during the Super Bowl has typically been a technique used by marketers who were shut out of the game for competitive reasons or who wanted to get a message out to the public on the cheap. Ad time on local TV stations costs significantly less than national Super Bowl inventory.

The main users of this intriguing big-game alternative have been brewers eager to pitch their suds and other potent potables but left out of game day because Anheuser Busch InBev has for years held an exclusive sponsorship for malt-based alcoholic beverages. Buying the Super Bowl on a local basis has worked for alcohol marketers including Heineken, Miller Brewing and Diageo.

This year, scarcity appears to be driving other marketers to test the local-TV waters.

The networks have long tried to ride herd on unorthodox Super Bowl buys. Last year, someone got the idea to buy 30 seconds of air time and then parcel out a few seconds each to various bidders. TV has served up a one-second ad before -- Master Lock showed one of its padlocks surviving a bullet -- but this more recent notion sounded a bit far-fetched. Besides, what network would allow dozens of advertisers to flash a logo within the confines of half a minute? Doing so would cheapen the inventory and prompt others who had invested millions in Super Bowl advertising to demand the chance to buy less time for less money.

CBS, which broadcast last year's Super Bowl, put the kibosh on the effort well before it could get air under its wings.

Mr. Freeman said his local-to-national Super Bowl spot attempt came at the behest of a client he would not identify, saying only that the party is "not an established national player" and not someone who is part of the usual Madison Avenue set.

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