Pigskin Deals Starting to Roll

May 15, 2006  •  Post A Comment

Football season has kicked off for advertisers, with big pigskin players in the beer and automotive categories deciding to stay in the game.

NBC, which will air “Sunday Night Football” this fall, has signed Toyota as its first NFL sponsor. The automaker last week announced its new Tundra pickup truck will be featured on the “Toyota Halftime Report” during the games.

CBS also has closed several deals. “It’s still early, but we have done some multiyear deals in the beer and auto categories,” said John Bogusz, executive VP of sports sales and marketing for CBS Television Network. Price increases are in the mid to high single-digit range, he said.

Mr. Bogusz said CBS also has closed a couple of deals for the Super Bowl, the most-watched program on TV each year. He said CBS is seeking an increase over the $2.5 million per spot ABC got for last year’s game.

“We do not have the distraction of the Olympics, which will be good for us,” he said. “And we have a good venue in Miami [where the 2007 Super Bowl is scheduled to be played].”

CBS, NBC, Fox, ESPN and DirecTV will pay about $3.77 billion a year to televise NFL games under deals signed last year, up about 50 percent from the prior agreements. The buyers and sellers say the NFL remains dominant in what appears to be a healthy market for TV sports.

“In this world of many options, live football telecasts in the fall seem to stand up fairly well,” said Tony Ponturo, VP of global media and sports marketing for Anheuser-Busch. Even advertisers who don’t traditionally buy sports may see the NFL, particularly in prime time, as a way “to try to reach an attentive audience relative to other options.”

Mr. Ponturo signed a multiyear agreement last month that renews Anheuser-Busch’s sports deals with CBS and Fox, extending through 2011 the brewer’s contract as exclusive beer sponsor of the Super Bowl when it airs on those networks, a deal Anheuser-Busch has had for 18 years. As part of its new NFL deal, NBC will televise the Super Bowl in 2009.

Money Talks

Anheuser-Busch is in discussions with NBC about advertising on the new Sunday night broadcast, Mr. Ponturo said.

“It will certainly do as well as ABC ‘Monday Night Football,’ and there’s some feeling it may do a little better, but I think we’ll have to wait and see,” he said.

Mike Law, associate group director for media buyer Carat, said that NBC was trying to get a higher price than ABC got for “Monday Night Football,” but that it was setting a realistic audience estimate of 12 million to 13 million.

“Their initial asking price was high and we thought it would be. It’s obviously a negotiation. If it wasn’t, we wouldn’t have jobs,” Mr. Law said. An executive at a rival network said ESPN was estimating a rating in the 7 to 8 range for “MNF.”

An NBC Sports spokesman declined to comment on pricing, but said, “We’re in a great position. Interest is strong and several major sponsorships are working.” He added that the bulk of football ad time sells after Memorial Day, “So expect to hear more in June.”

An ESPN-ABC Sports executive said the network was about 40 percent done with renewals for “Monday Night Football,” which this year will move to ESPN. Because last year ESPN-ABC had both “Monday Night Football” on ABC and “Sunday Night Football” on ESPN, it has twice as many incumbents and half the commercial inventory.

Mr. Ponturo said Anheuser-Busch is also in negotiations with ESPN.

Going Where the Game Is

Mr. Law said it was likely his “Monday Night Football” clients would move to NBC on Sunday night, where ratings are expected to be similar. “But it’s football money, so there’s no reason why that ‘Monday Night’ money couldn’t move to Sunday afternoon. It could be Fox or CBS money too,” he said.

He noted that ESPN is creating ad packages for its “Monday Night Football” games designed to turn each game into a mini-Super Bowl of all-day, multiplatform coverage. That might be attractive to an advertiser with $15 million to spend over a few weeks, but not necessarily one with a $2 million to $3 million budget.

“I don’t think it’s for the guy who’s looking to buy one or two units. I think that for that guy, which a lot of my advertisers are, we’re just looking for the best rating, cost, quality, efficiency there,” Mr. Law said. “But I think that if you’re a bigger player and you’ve got the money to spend behind that and take advantage of all of ESPN’s assets, they are building a nice package.”

NFL Network has not yet begun sales for its first set of games, which will run on Thursday and Saturday nights beginning Thanksgiving, a spokesman said. The network is waiting to maximize its distribution before establishing a base price with advertisers.

Fox Sports executives had no comment.