In Depth

NBCU Says It's Sold a Record $800M in Winter Olympics Ads -- Milestone Amount Comes With Fewer Advertisers

By Michael McCarthy
Advertising Age

NBCUniversal has sold $800 million in advertising for the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, according to Seth Winter, exec VP-sales and marketing for NBC Sports Group. That's a record for the Winter Games and coming from fewer advertisers, NBC said.

The windfall for the Sochi Games tops the previous Winter Olympics mark of roughly $750 million in ad sales that NBC wrote for the 2010 Vancouver and 2002 Salt Lake City Games. NBC said with local support its total might approach $970 million for the Sochi Games, scheduled for Feb. 7 to 23, 2014. The London 2012 Games set the record for Summer Olympics with more than $1 billion in ad sales.

"As of today, we see $800 million, which is a Winter Games record for us, surpassing Torino [2006], which was in the mid $600s, and both Salt Lake and Vancouver, which were in the mid-$700s," Mr. Winter said last week. "Today we see $800 million -- and we think there's growth beyond that."

Among the sponsors and advertisers buying time: Coca-Cola, Procter & Gamble, McDonald's, Visa, AT&T, General Motors, BMW, Citibank, Kellogg's and General Electric. There are also first-time buyers such as Liberty Mutual and BP.

There have been concerns going into Sochi that Russia's anti-gay laws will cause skittish advertisers to hold back or drop their buys. But that hasn't been the case, said Mr. Winter. "We have not seen a single advertiser fall out. ... While I know all of the advertisers are concerned, and will address it in their unique way, none of them have been shy about investing in the Olympics."

This past spring, Mr. Winter called out Anheuser-Busch InBev and Hilton for their decision not to buy time for Sochi. He declined to comment further. "You should ask them," he said.

In May, Paul Chibe, VP-U.S. marketing for A-B InBev, said it was focusing on its sponsorship of the U.S. Olympic Team and that TV media isn't the only ad game in town. A-B said it has nothing new to say on the matter. Hilton could not be reached for comment.

NBC said the Olympics are attracting fewer advertisers, who are spending more on exclusivity. Said Mr. Winter: "If you're a particular company, you want to shut out your competitors -- and have a sole share of voice over those three weeks."

Unlike the Super Bowl, a "one-day phenomenon," Mr. Winter said, the Olympics draw an audience of 215 million Americans over three weeks. "It's a unique platform," he said.

For the 2012 Summer Olympics, NBC began breaking up some exclusive packages into smaller pieces. For example, it divided autos into mass, which was bought by GM, and luxury, which BMW owns. Some of that is continuing into the Winter Games.

It stands to reason that with fewer marketers owning the airwaves during the three-week event, consumers could tire of the messages. NBC isn't worried. "A lot of advertisers are mindful of refreshing their creative," Mr. Winter said. "But we haven't seen anyone whose creative has burned out."