Super Bowl 2010

Super Bowl Ad Time Is Sold Out, CBS Says

Network Had Been Seeking $2.5 Million to $3 Million Per Spot

By Published on .

NEW YORK ( -- Ad time for the Super Bowl is sold out, according to the top ad-sales executive at CBS, the network broadcasting the contest this year on Feb. 7.

Jo Ann Ross
Jo Ann Ross Credit: J. Filo
"We're pacing ahead in terms of timing," said Jo Ann Ross, president-network sales, CBS Television Network.

The last time CBS broadcast the event, in 2007, sell-out didn't happen until just days before kickoff, Ms. Ross said. CBS has sold the typical amount of ad inventory, she added -- "more than 60 and less than 70" 30-second spots.

CBS has been seeking between $2.5 million and $3 million for a 30-second spot in Super Bowl XLIV, scheduled to be broadcast from Sun Life Stadium in South Florida.

Every Super Bowl marketplace takes its own unique shape. In preparation for the 2008 Super Bowl, Fox reaped the benefits of a good economy and intense interest in live sporting events, and had nearly sold out the event by late October 2007. In the run-up to the 2009 game, NBC found itself moving from highs -- selling about a dozen 30-second spots at $3 million a pop by mid-September 2008 -- to lows, having to cajole marketers into the game after the collapse of the economy.

Humble stance
CBS's journey since Super Bowl ad inventory went up for sale in last year's upfront market has been no different. CBS took a humbler stance than many when seeking Super Bowl money. Rather than go out with a solid price for a 30-second commercial -- standard practice when selling the biggest event of the season in a robust financial climate -- the network said it would try to create customized packages of ad time.

"We packaged the pre-game inventory with the inventory in the game and, obviously, that worked out well," said Ms. Ross. The network's efforts were also boosted by higher-than-expected advertiser demand for advertising time in football games, both college and pro, across the TV landscape.

CBS still has pre-game inventory available, she said, but many of the half-hours leading up to the kickoff have title sponsors. Indeed, Callaway Golf said Monday that it would the stand-alone sponsor of the 5:00 p.m. to 5:30 p.m half hour ahead of kickoff that will include "product exposure" on the CBS set during the time period.

But CBS faced challenges as well. Pepsi, a longtime sponsor of the event, surprised the industry when it decided to forgo advertising its famous beverages in the Super Bowl this year, a move prompted by the nature of its new "Refresh" campaign. The effort has a do-good theme to it, and Pepsi executives felt Super Bowl ads, with their exorbitant prices, might not fit the tone of the ad work.

Ms. Ross said CBS was informed of Pepsi's decision "before Thanksgiving" but was able to "resell" the inventory. TV networks typically try to use such unexpected pull-outs to their advantage by selling ad time for higher prices as demand for ad inventory increases closer to the day of the event.

Unusual buyers
CBS's decision to sell ad time to two atypical Super Bowl sponsors raised eyebrows. The network sold one 30-second spot to Christian advocacy organization Focus on the Family and another to Time Warner-owned cable network TruTV. In normal circumstances, the broadcast networks eschew ads from advocacy groups because their message can often be polarizing. But CBS has said it approved a non-inflammatory script from Focus on the Family and is prepared to run an ad featuring college-football star Tim Tebow and his mother. Focus on the Family espouses an anti-abortion stance, though the organization told Ad Age that it intended only to promote its family-counseling services with the ads.

Broadcast networks also usually refuse to run ads from competing cable networks. The TruTV ad will promote the new series "NFL: Full Contact" by featuring Troy Polamalu of the Pittsburgh Steelers. The ad is not expected to include a time and date when "Full Contact" might air.

Selling the Super Bowl is never without its pressures, said Ms. Ross. "When you have a big-ticket item, it's a big day for the network," she said. "It's a big event. I think we developed a strategy early on and stuck to it, and it paid off."

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