If you’re an advertiser with $7 million burning a hole in your pocket and you’d like to get your brand out in front of 100 million hyper-engaged TV viewers, the time to call Mark Evans was yesterday. According to the executive VP of ad sales for Fox Sports, “north of 95%” of the available units in Super Bowl LVII have been auctioned off, setting the stage for what may well be the earliest sellout in the history of the Big Game.
This is Fox’s 10th Super Bowl, and Evans has been in the mix ever since the network’s inaugural Packers-Patriots pairing way back in 1997. (At the risk of making light of the horrors of linear time, Tom Brady was still backing up Brian Griese at Michigan when New England advanced to Super Bowl XXXI.) Evans is quick to acknowledge the whiplash speed of this year’s Super Sunday sell-through, noting that his team began moving the first in-game units last fall.
“Normally, the bulk of the Super Bowl deals get written in September and October, but in conjunction with the realignment of our regular-season with the upfront market, things have snowballed,” Evans said in a phone interview. More often than not, the network hosting the Super Bowl will hold back a few units for a free-spending latecomer; as former CBS boss Les Moonves once observed, studio execs will pay twice as much as the soda and snack chips guys if they think they’re yoinking the very last unit away from the clutches of one of their Hollywood rivals.
The demand for live sports is such that advertisers no longer wish to wait for the primetime entertainment market to close shop before moving on to fall football buys; because there is no longer a pressing need to lock in real estate in any general-entertainment programming, marketers prefer to nail down their NFL deals before the shrimp cocktail served at the networks’ May upfront parties has had a chance to go off.
Evans said that he has a few units remaining in the first and second half of the broadcast, before adding that the highly sought-after “A” and “Z” positions—sales lingo used to denote the first and last spots of a given commercial break—have been snapped up. And while locking down these keystone slots has helped Fox begin mapping out the bulk of its Super Bowl game plan, there will always be a little give in the run-of-play. Among the factors that complicate the piecing-together of what amounts to a $500 million game of Tetris are the necessity to provide category exclusivity in each break and Madison Avenue’s increasingly maximalist mindset. (Nearly half of all Super Bowl spots now clock in at 60 seconds or longer.)
Speaking of exclusivity, while most of the advertisers that are slated to appear in the Super Bowl will be familiar to even the most casual football fan, the beer category is in the midst of a major shake-up. Earlier this summer, Anheuser-Busch elected to close the books on a deal that made the Budweiser family of brews the official alcohol brand of the Super Bowl for the better part of the last 35 years. While Evans did not identify which brewers were looking to make a splash in this season’s title tilt, media buyers have indicated that Molson Coors has already snatched up a 30-second spot.
One of the last non-Bud beers to appear in a Super Bowl broadcast was Schlitz. In 1981, the self-touted “beer that made Milwaukee famous” bought a unit in Super Bowl XV from NBC for $275,000 (or $896,325 in today’s dollars); in exchange, the Raiders and Eagles served up 68.3 million viewers. Other beers that advertised in the Big Game before Budweiser established its hegemony include Hamm’s and that thrifty collegiate standby, Old Milwaukee.
For those keeping track of this kind of thing, Fox set the record for the quickest unloading of in-game Super Bowl inventory back in 2010, when the network signed off on its last Super Bowl XLV unit three days before Halloween. Big spenders like Anheuser-Busch, Kia, Coca-Cola and Chrysler got a heck of a lot of bang for their bucks ($3.4 million per 30-second allotment, to be precise), as the eventual Packers-Steelers showdown averaged a then-record 111 million viewers.
While marketers are paying twice that amount to secure their place in Fox’s Feb. 12 broadcast, the atomization of the American TV audience has made it all but impossible to replicate Super Sunday impressions in any other primetime venue. For example, advertisers that bought time in the sixth and final season of NBC’s hit drama This Is Us paid about $320,000 a pop during last year’s upfront bazaar; given an average delivery of 1.07 million adults 18-49 per episode, the CPM (or cost of reaching 1,000 targeted viewers) worked out to a staggering $297.26. By comparison, the average CPM for NBC’s broadcast of Super Bowl LVI hovered around the $170 mark.
Per Nielsen live-plus-same-day data, the 106 entertainment programs that aired on the Big Four networks last season averaged a meager 652,414 adults 18-49, or 1.7% of the Super Bowl’s demo draw (38.4 million). As such, an advertiser looking to cobble together the reach afforded by a single half-minute slice of the NFL title tilt would have to buy 59 units in a network sitcom, with the negotiated spots airing over the course of the entire 35-week broadcast season.