Fourth and goal: Eight spots left in Super Bowl

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The clock is winding down on Super Bowl sales as ABC Sports looks to unload about eight more spots before the big game at Detroit's Ford Field on Feb. 5. And if the price other fourth-quarter advertisers have paid is any indication, the remaining commercials should go for a bargain price at around $2 million.

"The last spots are always a pain to sell," said one media buyer with clients in the game. "It'll be a little exacerbated by the Olympics ... but everybody already knew that."

Inventory in the pro-football championship is about 90% sold, just shy of where Fox was at this point last year. First-half inventory is sold out but a handful of spots remain in the second half, including-at deadline-one "A" position (first in its commercial pod) in the third quarter and several "B" positions in third and fourth.

While spots in the first half sold at an average $2.5 million, second half spots have gone for about $2 million. A half-million dollar spread isn't unusual, and it allows smaller marketers to join the big boys-Anheuser-Busch Cos., PepsiCo and General Motors Corp.-in the game.

American HomeHealth, for example, scored a spot in the second half for less than $2 million to promote a line of antibacterial hand soaps called PS. Emerald Nuts, advertising in the game for the second year, is in the fourth quarter with a spot that cost about the same.

"There will be quite a few paying below $2 million," said one media buying executive who was still checking out options for a client.

Advertising late in the game is not without risks-if it's a blowout, viewers tend to tune out early. But if it's anything like last year, when the game came down to a field goal, or last week's Rose Bowl, where the winning touchdown was scored with 30 seconds left, fourth-quarter advertisers could reap a large audience.

Who's actually paying top dollar? Movie studios, for one. Their desire to nab spots in prime positions means they're willing to pay more. ABC also got a high price from advertisers that committed to the game early, as far back as last spring, to secure good spots.

Ed Erhardt, president of ESPN/ABC Sports customer marketing and sales, said automakers, studios, insurance providers and financial services companies drove Super Bowl sales this year. A number of dot-coms are still "sniffing around," he said, although major players Amazon, eBay, Yahoo, Google, Microsoft and AOL have all said they'll stay on the sidelines.

Web domain seller has already worked up a bit of pre-Bowl publicity based on last year's racy ad, which ran in only one of its slots before being yanked by Fox. The company's chief executive has touted on his blog that he is having trouble getting an ad approved by ABC for this year's game. An ABC Sports spokeswoman confirmed the network is working with on an ad buy and that the network has best practices procedures for all of its Super Bowl advertisers.

A royal appearance

One advertiser sure to make a splash is Burger King, returning to the game for the first time in a decade. The marketer plays to use its "King" character, created by agency Crispin Porter Bogusky, Miami, in spots supporting its chicken fries, including a text-to-score sweepstakes. Arch rival McDonald's has bought pre-game spots.

Much ado has been made about the Olympics trailing the Super Bowl. "The sports inventory this quarter is huge," said a media buying executive. Visa and McDonald's, major sponsors of the International Olympic Committee, are out of the big game this year, although Visa will advertise in the pre-game show.

"Both Super Bowl and Olympics are terrific sporting events," Mr. Erhardt said. "We're having a good run with sales as it relates to the Super Bowl, and NBC's having good Olympics sales. ... It speaks to the power of sports and live TV."

Of course, there's always the last minute. "Last year it was an opportunistic buy. We had an attractive offer made at the last minute and took it," said Deborah Hohler, a spokeswoman for Staples. The retailer plans to sit out the game this year.

Contributing: Mya Frazier

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