Pricing: Just 3 weeks from kickoff, the clock's ticking for Fox

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It's three weeks before Fox's Super Bowl TV event, and the network, in football parlance, is in the "red zone"-just outside the goal line looking for a big score. It sure needs one.

News Corp.'s Fox does have an extra week to sell the Super Bowl because it was postponed to Feb. 3 after the events of Sept. 11. But Fox has sold just 80% of game commercial time, considerably behind last year's Super Bowl ad sales pace, when Viacom's CBS reached the 80% level in late November, nine weeks before the game (AA, Nov. 27, 2000).

Fox declined to comment. But industry executives say about 12 of 60 in-game units are still for sale.

Virtually all unsold inventory is in the fourth quarter, time deemed of lower value given the Super Bowl's propensity for lopsided victories in which the winner is apparent in the first half.

Early buyers inked deals in the $2 million range for a 30-second spot-some as low as $1.8 million to $1.9 million. For the remaining inventory, some buyers said, deals can be had for as little as $1.5 million.


Prices for remaining spots will depend in part on whether Fox packages Bowl spots with other sports broadcasts. Some agency executives also speculate Fox will fill out the roster by moving some advertisers' future non-sports ad buys into the Super Bowl.

The average price for a Super Bowl spot now is estimated at $1.9 million, vs. $2.05 million last year. The average could drift lower depending on where final buys come in. This marks the first time Bowl prices have fallen two years in a row.

Fox has some things going for it: Advertisers have been making buying decisions late given the state of the economy, so some may come into the game late.

Moreover, the overall TV ad marketplace is stabilizing. In fourth quarter 2001, program ad prices were equal to, or slightly above, prices for programs bought during the June 2001 upfront buying season, media executives said.

The trend is continuing into the first quarter, according to media buying executives.

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