Networks About 85% Sold Out of NFL Ad Inventory; College Football Even Further Along
By John Consoli -- Broadcasting & Cable, 8/15/2012 2:34:58 PM
"With all the sports ad impressions in the marketplace, with the Olympics and with Fox adding its Pac-12 football games in primetime and with our new Thanksgiving night NFL game, advertisers are still putting money into football telecasts," says Seth Winter, executive VP, sales and marketing, NBC Sports Group. "It shows the power of TV sports."
TV advertising sales for the fast-approaching 2012 NFL season are quietly moving along with most of the league's TV partners about 85% sold out of their commercial avails.
CBS, Fox, NBC, ESPN and the NFL Network are all ahead of last year's sellout levels, which were impacted early-on by the league contract dispute and lockout of the players, which wasn't resolved until late July. The networks are getting mid-to-high-single digit price increases over last season.
At the same time, college football ad sales for most of those networks are even further along, with similar price increases.
John Bogusz, executive VP of sales and marketing at CBS Sports, says his network's sellout level for its Sunday afternoon games at this point is "much better" than last year, with the automotive category being the most active. Other strong ad categories for the CBS NFL telecasts include beer, fast food and insurance/financial.
CBS also has a new halftime show sponsor in Verizon, which replaces Sprint, whose contract with the network expired.
Bogusz says CBS is over 95% sold out of its college football ad inventory, which includes its Saturday SEC game coverage, along with the Army-Navy game late in the season, and a Sept. 1 kickoff between Notre Dame and Navy from Dublin, Ireland.
Likewise, NBC's Winter says the network's Saturday Notre Dame football telecasts are "virtually sold out" and he is hoping that if Notre Dame has a solid season, his sales team can put the ad units it has set aside for make-goods back into the marketplace.
As far as NBC's Sunday Night Football sales are concerned, Winter says the network is over 85% sold, which is 20% ahead of last year at this time. Winter added that several early-season games are sold out. He also says the network has 15 multiyear deals with advertisers for SNF, several of which include sponsorships of the Football Night in America pregame show and the pre-kickoff segment.
"Right now, we anticipate exceeding last year's sales total for the season," Winter says, with automotive, fast food, telecommunications, insurance/financial and electronics/technology being strong categories.
Winter adds that NBC's first-time Thanksgiving night telecast, which will pit the New England Patriots against the New York Jets, is about 75% sold out at $975,000 per 30-second spot, a unit price he said the network has "not compromised on."
"There's been a little sticker shock by some marketers but we feel as the season progresses, we will eventually sell the game out," Winter says, adding that the game has been of particular interest to retailers.
Winter says NBC has been getting high single-digit increases for its NFL inventory, but said advertisers who bought multiyear packages have paid lower increases.
NBC also has one new automotive sponsor for the SNF postgame segment, though Winter did not wish to disclose the brand.
Ed Erhardt, president of global marketing and sales for ESPN, says the cable network is seeing increased ad sales activity for its Monday Night Football telecasts in the insurance/financial, fast food and movie categories. He also said the network has sold a good amount of political advertising, with some commercials from the Obama campaign already running, and pointing out that ESPN has a Monday telecast the night before the presidential election in November.
ESPN does not accept advertising from Political Action Committees (PACs), but will accept ads directly from the campaigns or through a deal it recently signed with NCC Media, the cable operator partnership. Under the terms of that deal, NCC bought ad time on assorted ESPN telecasts, including MNF, and NCC will in turn sell that time to political campaigns.
Erhardt says ESPN has sold a significantly larger amount of digital advertising compared to last season for Monday Night Football and its other fall football programming, but would not discuss the specifics.
"You can't underestimate the impact of digital on our MNF ad sales," Erhardt says, citing advertiser desire to reach the vast audience of men in fantasy football leagues who follow the season for player insight and stats beyond game day. "We are monetizing digital very well and it's helping to drive our overall ad sales. In many cases, mobile is leading the digital charge [over online] for certain advertisers."
Erhardt says the network is also well-sold in college football for both its games on ESPN and its Saturday night primetime college football games on ABC. He says a "handful" of units remain for each of the games. "For college, there are less restrictions and we have a little more flexibility than we do with the NFL telecasts as far as what we can [do] for advertisers during the telecasts," Erhardt says.
Fox would not comment on its NFL ad sales, but sources familiar with their negotiations say the network is selling its inventory at high single-digit increases and is also said to be about 85% sold, which would put it ahead of last season. Auto, fast food, insurance and electronics are strong categories for the Fox telecasts, sources say, while movie advertising has been down a bit.
In college football-Fox will be airing Pac-12 games on Saturday nights in primetime for the first time this season -advertising is about 85% sold out, with the first month of the season totally sold out, according to sources. Strong categories include automotive, fast food and insurance.
According to sources, Fox has signed up Ford as its Saturday night college football pregame sponsor, Pizza Hut as its halftime sponsor, AT&T as its postgame sponsor and GEICO will be the presenting sponsor of its September games.
NFL Network sales execs were not available for comment.
The National Football League telecasts are expected to have another strong year after last season ended on a strong note. While the Super Bowl always does well, the National and American Conference championships last season on Fox and CBS, respectively, were among the most-watched ever.
The AFC Championship Game on CBS between the Baltimore Ravens and the New England Patriots drew an average of 48.7 million viewers, the second-most watched AFC championship game in the past 30 years.
Meanwhile, the NFC Championship Game on Fox between the San Francisco 49ers and the New York Giants drew 57.6 million viewers, the third-most watched NFC championship game in the past 30 years.
Fox finished last year's regular NFL season telecasts averaging 20.1 million viewers, flat compared to the 2010 season. Within that total, however, it averaged 25.5 million viewers and a 9.3 18-49 rating for its 4:15 p.m. national window games.
CBS averaged 18.4 million viewers for its Sunday games, down 1.5%, but still a huge audience.
NBC averaged 21.5 million for its 18 Sunday Night Football games, down 1.4%; however, SNF was the most-watched primetime show of the entire regular broadcast season. NBC opens the NFL season once again this year, televising the NFL Kickoff game on Wednesday night, Sept. 5, featuring the Dallas Cowboys vs. the Super Bowl champion New York Giants. Last year's Kickoff game on NBC between the Green Bay Packers and the New Orleans Saints drew 27.2 million viewers.
NFL Network averaged 6.2 million viewers for its eight Thursday night telecasts last season, up 10.8%, and a new record average audience for the season. This coming the season, NFL Network will televise five more Thursday night games, for a total of 13, beginning Sept. 13.
ESPN averaged 13.3 million viewers last regular season for 17 Monday Night Football telecasts, down 9.6%, but again, it was still the most-watched cable network during the season and No. 1 on Monday nights in the male 18-34 and 18-49 demos, and on most Mondays, tops in men 25-54.
ESPN's Erhardt believes this year's schedule for MNF potentially has some stronger matchups and that will draw more viewers. Among the top NFL teams making appearances on MNF: the New York Giants, New England Patriots, San Francisco 49ers, Green Bay Packers, New Orleans Saints, Pittsburgh Steelers, Baltimore Ravens, Chicago Bears and the Peyton Manning-led Denver Broncos.
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