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Volume 20 No. 46
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Ad sales strong for big-ticket Super Bowl, Olympics

Fox Sports sold its final in-game Super Bowl advertising spot in early December, two months before the game. NBC Sports Group stopped taking ad sales orders for the Winter Olympics in early January, more than a month before the Sochi Games are due to start.

Even though the two biggest TV events on this year’s U.S. sports calendar start in the same week in early February, both have found more than enough advertisers to support them. And concerns that these two big-ticket events would siphon ad dollars from other televised sports events have not materialized. Even with a record amount of advertising dollars flowing to a New York-based Super Bowl and the Winter Olympics — in excess of $1 billion combined, sources said — other high profile sports in February, such as NASCAR’s Daytona 500, which will be on Fox Sports, and the NBA All-Star Game (TNT), are seeing robust markets as well, according to the networks and ad buyers.

These competing billboards in New York’s Times Square sum up how the Super Bowl and Winter Olympics have battled for the attention of consumers and advertisers.
Photo by: Terry Lefton / Staff
“All of these events are healthy. These are big event sports,” said Toby Byrne, president of advertising sales for Fox Broadcasting Co. and Fox Sports. “There really is nothing else like it on television. They have attracted enough ad dollars to support them all.”

For the executives who buy and sell sports TV advertising, the robust ad sales marketplace, now years in the making, is another sign of how live sports has become the dominant programming genre on television, consistently outperforming prime-time entertainment programming.

“There’s a lot of places to take money from, and I don’t think they’re taking it from the sports bucket,” said Ed Erhardt, president of global marketing and sales for ESPN. “Almost everyone has suggested that this will be a stronger year for advertising because of the Olympics and the World Cup.”

An executive with Optimum Sports, which has some of the biggest advertising clients in the business, says much of the money flowing into the Super Bowl and the Olympics is coming from prime-time entertainment, which has seen viewership levels continue to decrease.

“If you’re trying to reach that prime-time audience, the next best thing is sports,” said Jeremy Carey, U.S. director

for Optimum Sports. “From a gender standpoint, it’s not as dual as prime time is. But these bigger events have a tendency to skew more female.”

The sports market is not just getting money from prime-time entertainment. Sports also is picking up a disproportionate share of new money that’s coming into TV advertising. Take the Web design company Squarespace, for example, which bought a Super Bowl ad despite not having a big TV advertising presence.

“Organic growth in television is going to sports: If other areas in television are growing less, sports is growing more,” Byrne said.

Seth Winter, executive vice president of sales and marketing for NBC Sports Group and NBCUniversal News Group, said the huge ad markets surrounding the Super Bowl and Winter Olympics have had no effect on NBC Sports Groups’ other sports, like the NHL and Premier League, which he said also are pacing ahead of expectations.
Winter said his group was just starting to sell horse racing’s Triple Crown and tennis’ French Open.

“Sports is a great part of the media business right now,” Winter said. “Live, in general, is doing extraordinarily well. There’s a resonance that live programming has with advertisers more greatly today than even yesterday and I anticipate even more so tomorrow.”

Among the categories driving the overall sports advertising market are technology, films and quick-service restaurants.

“I don’t think we’re at a high point like it was before the crash,” Carey said. “But I think it’s more dynamic than we’ve ever seen, at least in my time. There are so many options out there.”

One interesting area to watch is the auto sector, which has proved to be particularly strong in this market. In fact, it has rebounded so strongly from the recession that at least one influential media buyer is concerned that it may be inflating the market.

“We start to think internally here if there’s a little bit of a bubble there,” Optimum Sports’ Carey said. “Should we be cautious of that, not particularly as it pertains to the Olympics, but things like the Super Bowl and the NFL?”
In the Super Bowl, autos are granted “pod exclusivity.” That means that other automobile brands cannot run messages during that commercial pod. This year, eight auto advertisers — from Audi to Kia — have produced 60-second, 90-second and 120-second ads for the game.

“What happens if it comes back and these guys next year say, ‘We don’t want to buy the two-minute spot, or the 90 or the 60. We just want to buy the 30,’” Carey said. “That puts another 15 units or so into sale. That’s something we’ve been cautious about — not that it speaks to the marketplace this time around because it was gangbusters.”