Stations Gear Up for Super Bowl Sunday

Jan 29, 2007  •  Post A Comment

For John Mann, president and general manager of CBS affiliate WSBT-TV in South Bend, Ind., the Super Bowl provides a shot at both Colts and Bears fans. His station’s proximity to both teams’ hometowns puts Mr. Mann in position to cash in on the game’s advertising opportunities and exploit intangibles that can bolster WSBT’s profile.

WSBT, owned by Schurz Communications, is cheerfully caught up in the advertising and ratings equivalent of the perfect storm. Its market, the 87th-largest in the country, lies across Lake Michigan from Chicago, the home of the Bears, and a few hours north of Indianapolis, where the Colts play. That means his territory is home to rabid fans of both teams playing in the biggest television event of the year.

“There is exceptionally compelling local interest,” Mr. Mann said.

Mr. Mann said the station’s executives believe a 60 or 61 rating for the Feb. 4 Super Bowl is entirely possible, but since the market is not metered, they will have to wait until later in February for Nielsen Media Research to deliver numbers from the diaries used to track viewing.

WSBT this year may provide the clearest illustration of the benefits the Super Bowl can bring local stations. Beyond the increased prices that can be charged for local commercial spots in the Super Bowl (five minutes for the station) and related programming, there are the larger-than-usual audiences to whom stations can showcase their news prowess and talent in post-game programs, lead-up programming and cut-ins.

The assorted packages urged on advertisers include spots in other programming on the station, including news.

“It’s all about eyeball catching,” said Julio Marenghi, sales president for the CBS owned-and-operated stations that will broadcast the Super Bowl and several related hours of programming leading up to the game Sunday. “You’re buying the largest audience you can get anywhere, any time.”

Mr. Marenghi and CBS affiliate executives such as Bob Lee, the president and general manager of Schurz’s WDBJ-TV in Roanoke, Va., have held on to small amounts of local ad inventory to sell at the last minute, presumably at higher prices.

“We had really good upfront sales and held some back,” said Mr. Lee, a former chairman of the CBS affiliates board who has packaged some Super Bowl ads with spots in the network’s March Madness coverage of the NCAA Tournament.

The game carries some risks for local stations, however. Kathy Crawford, president of MindShare North America’s local broadcast group, said stations that are too aggressive in pushing sales packages run a risk of some advertisers walking away. Those who guarantee too high a rating may run into trouble making good on advertising time they have to rebate to buyers.

“If you lose five points because you overestimated, where do you make up that five points?” she said.

Mr. Mann of WSBT is shuffling his schedule to show off his local programming to its best effect. After discussion with CBS, the station decided to delay the post-Super Bowl broadcast of “Criminal Minds” 30 to 40 minutes to accommodate a special edition of its late local news, which will start at about 11:30.

Mr. Mann also has been in discussions with other Indiana stations about a significant amount of shared pre-game programming. Like many CBS-affiliated stations, WSBT will, at considerable expense, send a news crew to Miami. Those expenses are balanced by promotional and sales opportunities.

The Super Bowl “represents a huge platform for promotion and sampling before, during and after the Super Bowl,” Steve Ridge, executive VP for consulting firm Frank N. Magid Associates, said. However, “despite the delivery of an intense concentration of young demos, a mega-event like this rarely changes individual market dynamics or has lasting impact. Most people go to their preferred station for local coverage regardless of which station carries a one-time blockbuster event.”

Still, for CBS-affiliated stations the Super Bowl will help in what may be a difficult year. “Spot television [ad prices] are looking at being flat to maybe down 3 percent,” Mr. Marenghi said.

With the Super Bowl on the schedule, though, the wind is at CBS stations’ backs, he said.

“Now it’s just a matter of making sure we cash in on it properly,” Mr. Marenghi said.