Speculation had been rife that the tight race could prompt one of the candidates to splash big cash on the big game. Evan Tracey, of TNS Media Intelligence's Campaign Media Analysis Group, had suggested a Super Bowl spot could help motivate supporters to "get out there and fight." Mr. Tracey also said he had heard rumors that some of the campaign staffs were looking at the possibility.
Such a move was first considered because of the almost-too-tempting timing of this year's game on Feb. 3, just two days before Super Tuesday.
But Fox scotched such talk today, saying it would not sell spots to any of the candidates even if asked. In a statement to Ad Age, Fox described this as staying in line with Federal Communications Commission regulations regarding political buys.
"We comply with all legal requirements when it comes to selling time to candidates, including any requirements that might apply to a unique broadcast like the Super Bowl," said a spokesperson.
The central FCC rule governing political buys is that the networks offer equal opportunities to all the candidates, which would not seem to preclude the network selling spots to candidates. But in this case, with the Feb. 3 game already as good as sold out, it would be impossible for Fox to offer opportunities to all of them.
Sources close to the situation said Fox can refuse to sell political time in this situation, and can invoke an FCC ruling that turning candidates down is reasonable in "unique, one-time-only" broadcasts where equal ad time can't be offered to all candidates.
The FCC in a decision in another case, said that "although a candidate for federal office is entitled to varied broadcast times, such candidate is not entitled to a particular placement of his or her political announcement on [a] station's broadcast schedule."
Though Fox is asking from $2.6 million to $3 million for Super Bowl spots--a high price for any spot, let alone a political spot--some political experts and media watchers had suggested that a buy might be worth it because of the buzz and publicity a candidate could generate.
"If I were Mitt Romney I would buy a Super Bowl spot which would be two days before Super Tuesday. Produce something very creative, and get tons of free press out of it," said Matthew Dowd, a political consultant, before Fox's announcement. "No campaign has done that before."
Seems now Mr. Romney and company will have to find other places to spend their marketing warchests.