Super Bowl Ads Sold Out At Fox (But The Economy Didnt Help)

Fox sold 95% of the advertising inventory for this week’s Super Bowl by September of last year. Then it faced what became an unexpected and difficult challenge: Getting rid of the last 5%.

After enjoying heavy demand for Super Bowl ad spots last year, Fox found itself on the precipice of great success, all while seeking eyebrow-raising prices of $6 million to more than $7 million for a 30-second slot. Then came October. “As the economic climate in October changed a bit, people’s enthusiasm to spend $7 million waned,” explains Mark Evans, executive vice president of sales for Fox Sports.

Fox struck a deal for its last bit of available in-game commercial inventory in late January and was comfortable enough Monday with client commitments to declare a sell out for the February 12 gridiron spectacular. But the road the network traveled to get there shows that no Super Bowl sales effort is over until the very end — and even then, unseen forces like the economy or a surprise from a single advertiser can get in the way.

Millions of dollars are at stake when a TV network starts to sell the Super Bowl. NBC’s broadcast of Super Bowl LVI in 2022 generated nearly $578.4 million from in-game commercials alone, according to Vivvix, a tracker of ad spending — a boost of $143.8 million over that of 2021. Total ad revenue, which includes pre-game and post-game commercials, totaled $636 million last year, a boost of more than $100 million over the 2021 telecast.

When the economy is thriving, a Super Bowl game can turbocharge a TV network’s ad revenue. And when the financial outlook is shaky, Super Bowl commercials can give a network a cushion as marketers pull back on ad spending in general.

Fox has been bold about its sales process. In the fall of 2021 — 18 months before game time — the network’s ad-sales team declared it was open for business for Super Bowl LVII. NBC had yet to sound the bell on its own process for the 2022 game, and Seth Winter, then the Fox sports ad-sales chief, declared that Fox wanted at least $6 million for a 30-second spot.

Interest was largely robust, with Fox signing deals for most of its Super Bowl inventory over the Spring and Summer of 2022. But there were also some bumps.

As the economy grew shakier, some advertisers that bought units asked “for relief for different business reasons,” says Evans — particularly cryptocurrency companies, which were major buyers of Super Bowl ad time in 2022. One year later, they are all under scrutiny after the implosion of FTX, an exchange that won notice last year for its Super Bowl ad starring comedian Larry David. Buys from similar companies “more or less ceased to exist. Those went away,” says Evans. ”That created a little more inventory.” A few other clients asked to sell the spots they had agreed to buy to someone else. “That created a little more inventory,” said the executive.

Fox’s sales drive was saved by other Super Bowl advertisers who asked the network for more time – potentially to run another 30-second spot, or even to take a :30 or :60 and expand it. Some Super Bowl ad rookies — companies that haven’t bought the Big Game in the past — also started to show interest. Fox kept talks going, even though the prospect of having to re-sell inventory once thought to be purchased can create a stressful situation.

“We were having conversations with marketers at an uncertain time,” says Evans. Marketers told his team “’We want to be there. We plan to be there. We need to be there. Let’s have another inflation report. Let’s have another earnings report.’” he recalls. “There were bumps, but never a point where we were like, ‘Oh, man, this is going south.’”

Viewers can expect to see Super Bowl regulars like Anheuser-Busch InBev, Avocados From Mexico and Frito-Lay, as well as a few surprises. The aforementioned beer giant has given up its long-held rights that made it the exclusive beer sponsor in the NFL championship, letting rivals such as Molson Coors on to the advertising field. Fox also has created a special place for a live commercial from online-gambling giant FanDuel, which features football great Rob Gronkowski. To isolate other clients from whatever might happen during the unorthodox spot, according to a person familiar with the matter, Fox will separate the FanDuel pitch from the rest of its commercial break in what is known as the “Z,” or last position, with a handful of promos for various programs and initiatives from corporate parent Fox Corp. You might call it a “Z+.”

The Super Bowl job at Fox is not done. There’s still more to sell. “We have three units in our pre-kickoff, and we have a unit and a half remaining in our post-game break,” says Evans.

Fox is also working to sell ad time for hours and hours of pre-game programming on Sunday morning and afternoon, where the price of a 30-second ad can go for $100,000 early in the day and around $3 million just before kickoff. “We are much more well sold than in the past throughout the day,” says Evans, who cites robust NFL ratings this season, which leaves Fox with fewer demands for “make-good” time for advertisers concerned about ratings guarantees for commercial buys.

Indeed, viewers should expect to see some advertisers woven into programming and spotlighted by Fox talent, says Evans, including Intuit and Pizza Hut. While the pre-game slots cost less than those in the event itself, he says, they often reach bigger audiences than many other properties on TV. And that, after all, is what sponsors expect from the Super Bowl in the first place.

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