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Super sales for NFL and Fox

The NFL’s TV advertising market has moved so early this year that sources say Fox will be in the unprecedented position of heading into the regular season with just a handful of Super Bowl spots left to sell.

Most of those remaining Super Bowl spots are in the fourth quarter, sources said. Fox is getting around $3 million for a stand-alone 30-second spot, though most of the spots are sold as larger packages.

Typically, networks go into Super Bowl week with a few open spots to fill. But this year’s Super Bowl ad sales story is mirroring a regular season that has seen the ad market move faster than ever before, with all of the TV networks reporting sellout levels of around 95 percent.

Fox would not comment on its Super Bowl sales, but the network said its regular-season business is more than 95 percent sold, which is 20 percent above last year’s pace, when networks were selling their NFL games in the middle of the worst recession in generations.

“Sales levels heading into this season, led by a resurgent auto category, have exceeded our best expectations,” said Neil Mulcahy, Fox’s executive vice president for sports sales. “In addition to autos, we’ve seen year-to-year growth in almost every category we do business with.”

The story is a stark contrast to last year, when the recession caused the NFL’s sales market to move later than ever and entire sectors, like autos and financials, cut their spending.

NBC said its regular season is more than 95 percent sold, with several of its September games sold out. CBS says it’s more than 90 percent sold. ESPN said its “Monday Night Football” package has very few units available. Even NFL Network says its regular season is more than 90 percent sold, and its live-game schedule doesn’t start until November.

“This is one of those rebound years you see after a recession that takes the sting out of last year,” said Seth Winter, NBC’s senior vice president for sports and Olympics sales and marketing.

Winter added that NBC has signed about 15 multiyear deals for “Sunday Night Football.”

ESPN said the ad sales have translated over to its digital business, where ESPN.com’s home page, plus its pages for the NFL and college football, have only a couple of positions left for the season. The NFL’s Keith Turner said NFL.com is seeing similar online activity.

“The story to me is that the NFL is the No. 1 entertainment brand in the country,” said Ed Erhardt, ESPN’s president of customer marketing and sales. “Advertisers are going to go where there’s an audience and passion and live viewing, and NFL and college football have that.”

By all accounts, the auto category has been the most active this year. CBS and NBC said telecom was a strong second, while Fox cited films. The consensus, though, is that increased spending from the auto sector is driving the market.

“They basically took a year off,” said Jeremy Carey, media director for Optimum Sports, which handles Nissan and Infinity. “In order to sell cars, you have to advertise. We all know it works.”

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