In Depth

Obama Mulling NBC Olympics Ads

There will be Olympics spots from General Motors, McDonald’s, Budweiser and Nike, but could there also be commercials for Barack Obama during NBC Sports coverage of the Beijing games?

The Obama campaign has asked NBC Universal about Olympics advertising packages, a signal not only that the campaign’s continuing fundraising prowess could have significant media spending impacts this fall, but that the Obama campaign is examining national network broadcast buys as an option in the face of a widening field of battleground states.

No Olympics spots have yet been bought and the campaign said TV spots are among a number of possibilities being explored for campaign advertising.

“Obviously our buyers when contemplating the election look at a variety of options,” said Jim Margolis, the GMMB partner who co-chairs the Obama advertising team. “You will probably see us looking at lots of things. There is a big difference between looking and buying.”

Sen. John McCain’s campaign has also asked about Olympics rates, but the Obama campaign went further. It asked NBC for a $500,000 Olympics package, a $2 million package and a $4 million package of ads. NBC presented the packages along with a $10 million package.

NBC will air 3,600 hours of game coverage on NBC, CNBC, MSNBC, USA Network, Oxygen and Telemundo. All the packages presented to the Obama campaign include time not only on the NBC broadcast network but on cable as well.

No presidential candidate has done any significant buying of network TV ad time since Bob Dole ran in 1996, and that campaign bought a single multiminute network spot. The only political ads that aired on any broadcast network in this campaign were two from Rudy Giuliani in consecutive weeks on “Fox News Sunday.”

Instead, presidential candidates have targeted their ads to battleground states or, in some cases, have used national cable. There has been speculation this year that with more states in play this time around, the economics of media buying might call for a national overlay to state-by-state ads.

The Obama campaign, launching its first ads on Thursday since winning the nomination, chose to air them in 18 states, six more than the dozen battleground states in play four years ago. The 18 are Alaska, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Indiana, Michigan, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Virginia.

Olympics advertising offers the candidates a prominent advertising vehicle and an opportunity to home in on women.

Four years ago, viewership of the Olympics during prime time averaged a 15 rating, according to The Nielsen Co. On some nights, the female audience was more than 3 percentage points higher than the male audience.

But those benefits could come at a high cost. Olympics advertising isn’t cheap; plus the Olympics are held pretty early in the presidential election process, and some of the additional costs of national ads reflects their reach to states like New York, Illinois and California that are presumed to already be in Obama’s column.

Marc Ganis, president of Sportscorp, a sports marketing consultant in Chicago, said candidates have talked before about buying the World Series or baseball playoffs because those events happen shortly before the election.

“The question is why buy such expensive ad time in August, three months before the election. The advantage is you get a big audience with a broad section of the country. The negative is it’s not niche advertising. You are paying for advertising in states where you might not have a chance to win or where you will win overwhelmingly.”

Still he said the advertising would have some advantage, including the publicity it would draw.

He also said the Summer Olympics don’t skew to women as much as the Winter Olympics do, but buys on the nights gymnastics events are held draw more women.