Last-Minute Deals Have Long Been a Tradition on Game Day

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NEW YORK ( -- ABC Sports is running its version of the NFL's two-minute drill to get rid of last-minute Super Bowl spots, but that’s business as usual for the Big Game.
Late Friday, Ed Erhardt, ESPN/ABC Sports' president of customer marketing and sales, said he expected ad slots to be sold out by game time.

Up to four spots
Almost every year, a few spots are left going into Super Bowl weekend, according to media buyers. Based on input from several of them, ABC may have anywhere from two to four spots left to sell -- but that’s not cause for a fire sale.

“This is not an unusual situation,” said Larry Novenstern, exec VP-director of national electronic media, Zenith Optimedia U.S. “[For ABC] there’s no need to panic.” According to another buyer, who’s bought media time around the game, “it is totally conceivable that deals are still being done.”

Airport deals
Fox last year was sold out on the Thursday before Super Bowl Sunday, according to an executive familiar with the sales. In 2004, CBS closed a deal the day of the game while on a bus to the stadium, a media buyer recounted last year to Ad Age. Three years ago, when ABC last sold the game, it cut deals through the weekend. Another media buyer was quick to note that every year there’s usually some spots sold in the airport on the Friday before the game.

This year, Ed Erhardt, ESPN/ABC Sports' president of customer marketing and sales, said he feels good about where sales are and expects to be sold out at game time.

This week ABC has approached advertisers to buy second-half spots for prices ranging from $1.6 million to $1.7 million. Like most media sales organizations, a network has to take care not to discount too far below the original price tag in order to maintain its pricing integrity. Often, a network will package in pre- or post-game inventory to maintain an in-game rate. Ad rates for this year’s game have ranged from $2.5 million for prime first and second quarter inventory to just under $2 million for less desirable second-half or “B” positions.

Making money on the NFL deal
At the end of the day, even if a network substitutes a promo or two into empty ad spots -- and it’s been done before -- the Super Bowl remains the one year in three that a network makes money on its National Football League contract.

Of course for advertisers spending up to $1 million on special creative for the game, buying early and getting good placement is worth the price. Other advertisers may enter later in an opportunistic buy, using creative that’s already aired. As long as the network has the creative, those decisions can be made on game day. General Motors Corp., for example, announced today that its Hummer brand would advertise in the third quarter using the “Monsters” spot that first broke in August. In it, a monster and a robot fall in love and beget the smaller H3 SUV. Other last-minute buyers included, whose long saga to get an appropriate ad past censors resulted in the domain name company securing two spots. And Newell Rubbermaid just today bought a spot for its Sharpie marker brand.

So it’s very possible that sometime in the next 48 hours another deal will be struck. “When you have all of your top advertisers with you over the weekend, maybe you make a deal Saturday night or Sunday morning,” said one media buyer before he shipped off to Detroit.

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