With the new season about to kick off, commercials in National Football League games are selling out earlier than ever, with spots in the Super Bowl already nearly gone at prices topping a record $7 million.
Network sales execs this year’s haul from NFL games -- TV’s highest rated programming -- should top the $4.43 billion generated during the 2021-22 season.
As viewers shift to streaming, sports remain one of the few places on traditional TV where advertisers can reach large audiences. So instead of waiting till after upfront entertainment deals are done, sponsors began snapping up NFL inventory ahead of the network presentations in May, Mark Evans, executive VP of ad sales for Fox Sports, told Broadcasting+Cable.
“Coming out of the upfront, we found ourselves over 90% sold for the full year,” Evans said. “We typically come out of the upfront market about 80% to 85% sold.”
Demand was particularly strong for special games on Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Day.
Evans declined to talk about price increases, but a source familiar with the situation said Fox was getting increases ranging from high single digits to low single digits on a cost-per-thousand viewers (CPM) basis.
Fox, which also has the FIFA World Cup and baseball's World Series coming up, is looking at a big football postseason as the first network in 40 years to carry two Wild Card playoff games, two NFC Divisional Playoff Games, the NFC Championship Game and the Super Bowl.
Sponsors are enthusiastically buying up spots in Super Bowl LVII. Usually, most Super Bowl sales take place after the start of the season, in September and October. This year, Super Bowl deals were done in concert with upfront deals. “That was very different for us,” Evans said. “We’re months ahead of where we typically are.”
Immediately after the upfront, Fox had 90% of its Super Bowl inventory sold, he said. Now its up to about 95% with just a handful of units still available. The good news for prospective advertisers is that Fox still has spots available in both the first half and the second half of the game, giving sponsors more flexibility.
Again, Evan’s declined to discuss price, but sources said 30-second commercials were going for more than $7 million, up from the $6.5 million NBC received for its highest-priced commercials in the February 2022 Super Bowl.
"We feel excellent about what we’ve sold, the pricing structure and how we’ve managed our inventory,” Evans said, adding he has warned potential advertisers that the price of Super Bowl ads will only rise. As far as the remaining spots go, “we’re open for business and we’ll transact for a deal that makes sense.”
For the Super Bowl, Verizon will be Fox’s halftime sponsor. (Pepsi has pulled out as sponsor of the NFL’s halftime musical performance. No replacement has been announced.)
Sellout levels are also high for Fox’s Super Bowl pre-game programming. Some of the half hours have presenting sponsors and a vast majority of those are already gone, with just two half-hours still available.
All in, Super Sunday is expected to generate upwards of $500 million for Fox.
Sean Hanrahan, senior VP, Disney Advertising Sports Brand Solutions, says Monday Night Football spots on ESPN are also well sold at this point.
”Sell-throughs are tremendous, with double-digit price increases,” Hanrahan said. “We’re happy to have the Manning-cast back again. That was a big hit for us last year,” he added, referring to the simulcast on ESPN2 featuring Peyton Manning, his brother Eli Manning and special guests.
On Monday Night Football, Target is the new sponsor of the half-time highlights that lead into the start of the third quarter. Progressive returns as the pre-kickoff programming sponsor. Subway is back as the sponsor for the Countdown show leading into MNF and Snickers is back for Sunday night’s NFL Countdown.
Evans said Fox’s regular season sales were bolstered by adding 28 new advertisers who hadn’t bought the NFL on Fox last year. Those advertisers generated more than $100 million of new business for the NFL on Fox.
The bulk of Fox’s NFL sales remain in familiar categories, such as insurance, technology and autos. But there were also some categories registering double-digit increases, up as much as 30%. Those include travel and entertainment, with theatrical films and streaming services spending big, and the dining category also up strongly.
Given the run on NFL inventory, Evans said he’s seeing more clients looking to strike multi-year deals. ■
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Jon has been business editor of Broadcasting+Cable since 2010. He focuses on revenue-generating activities, including advertising and distribution, as well as executive intrigue and merger and acquisition activity. Just about any story is fair game, if a dollar sign can make its way into the article. Before B+C, Jon covered the industry for TVWeek, Cable World, Electronic Media, Advertising Age and The New York Post. A native New Yorker, Jon is hiding in plain sight in the suburbs of Chicago.