In Depth

On Fox, Super Bowl Ads Start Before the Game Does; Major Marketers Such as GM, Ford and Pizza Hut Give Pre-Game More Attention After Ad-Inventory Sellout

By Brian Steinberg
Advertising Age

With ad time in the Super Bowl sold out, the pre-game festivities are taking on some of the Big Game's usual luster.

Kraft Foods' Ritz crackers, General Motors' Chevrolet, Yum Brands' Pizza Hut, Ford Motor and E-Trade are among the marketers using the early hoopla to supplement their Super Bowl perches or participate in the Super Bowl without actually buying a $3 million commercial.

Advertisers often tuck themselves into the sports programming leading up to the Super Bowl kickoff -- Pizza Hut for years made a splash by buying up the final pre-game ad spot -- and the pre-game still serves as a way for the network hosting the Super Bowl to bundle up lots of inventory under the aegis of a broader Super Bowl or overall sports sponsorship package.

Even so, demand for ad time in this year's Super Bowl has led to increased interest in the chatter, fluff and analysis that usually makes up the pre-game content leading up to it, said Neil Mulcahy, exec VP-sports sales for Fox.

"It's all about supply and demand," Mr. Mulcahy said.

This year's Super Bowl has been sold out since October, and the subsequent scramble by marketers to attach themselves to other inventory that has an association with the event has been fascinating to watch.

Some advertisers and ad buyers have tried to cobble together local ad availabilities on Fox stations and affiliates broadcasting the game. American Suzuki, for example, has purchased advertising in its top 14 markets, which range from Charleston, W.Va., to Charleston, S.C.

But the pre-game is the other way to go. Depending on the time of day, ad spots and packages during Fox's pre-game programming this year can go for between $100,000 to $2 million, according to a person familiar with the situation. Commercials during the game have been going for $2.8 million to $3 million this year.

No matter the price, the hours of lead-in this year look to be filled with ads and surprising promotions from a number of big spenders. Food Network personality Guy Fieri will appear in multiple program segments for Kraft Foods' Ritz crackers. With the first part of Fox's pre-game coverage set outdoors, Mr. Fieri will be spotted in a parking lot outside Cowboys Stadium creating tailgate fare using Ritz crackers. The hour in which he appears will be called "The Ritz Cracker Pre-Game Show."

As part of GM' sponsorship, a robot that the car maker has developed with NASA -- naturally -- will predict who the Most Valuable Player of the Super Bowl will be, in an appearance with Fox Sports' Howie Long. GM's Chevrolet is sponsoring the MVP award as well as the Super Bowl's post-game show, when the award will be presented.

Like GM, Pizza Hut is advertising in the Super Bowl itself. The chain will be sponsoring a long-running Fox feature that has fans pick the greatest football plays of all time.

With a passel of automakers buying Super Bowl ad time, Ford Motor is hoping to stand out by snapping up a sponsorship in the chunks of pre-game time. Ford is sponsoring the 6 p.m. hour up to the Super Bowl kickoff.

And fans of the popular talking baby who has made a name for himself in E-Trade commercials will see more of the chatty tyke during the pre-game celebration. The baby is expected to show up and chat with the on-air team from Fox's Sunday football telecasts, as it did during the playoffs.