Super Bowl XL's extra-large ad sales
ABC is said to be selling 30-second spots for between $2.5 million and $2.6 million, a new record.
By Paul R. La Monica, senior writer

NEW YORK ( Pigskin fans rejoice! The National Football League playoffs begin this weekend and Super Bowl XL is only a little more than a month away.

But football freaks aren't the only ones that will celebrate. ABC, which will air the big game from Detroit on Feb. 5, will as well.

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People close to ABC, owned by Walt Disney (Research), said that 30-second commercial spots are selling for $2.5 million to $2.6 million, which would be a record price for Super Bowl ads.

That's contrary to reports last month, which indicated that 30-second ads were going for only $2.4 million -- last year's record that Fox fetched for commercials during Super Bowl XXXIX. Fox is owned by News Corp (Research).

Beginning next season, ABC will no longer air NFL games, with its long-time Monday Night Football franchise moving to sister cable network ESPN. So for now, it looks like ABC will say farewell to football with a bang.

Advertisers still appear to be willing to pay top dollar during the Super Bowl since a gigantic audience is virtually guaranteed, regardless of which teams are playing. More than 86 million people watched the Super Bowl last year in the U.S., according to Nielsen Media Research.

"In this world of media fractionalization, this is one of the last times you can count on getting about 90 million viewers at the drop of the hat," said Brad Adgate, senior vice president of corporate research for Horizon Media, a marketing firm. "Advertisers realize this is the one event where people will actually watch your commercials."

Online recruitment company, which is owned by newspaper publishers Gannett (Research), Knight-Ridder (Research) and Tribune (Research), announced plans last May to advertise on Super Bowl XL. The company aired several popular spots during last year's Super Bowl featuring chimpanzees.

Gillette, acquired by Procter & Gamble (Research) last year, is said to be planning on buying ad time for this year's game to promote its new Fusion razor.

Long-time Super Bowl advertisers, such as Anheuser-Busch (Research), Pepsi (Research) and General Motors (Research), are also planning several spots, according to Ed Erhardt, president of ad sales for ESPN and ABC Sports. He also pointed to interest from insurance and financial-services companies.

Will ABC get burned by the Olympic torch?

Still, some advertisers may be wary of spending so much, especially since the Winter Olympics begins just 5 days later in Torino, Italy. NBC will be airing the Olympics from Feb. 10 through Feb. 26.

"It is a huge dollar commitment for the Olympics, so that's a lot of money to be throwing around in sports," said Adgate.

Shari Anne Brill, vice president of programming with Carat USA, a media-buying firm, added that the Olympics might be more cost effective, since a company could buy several Olympics ads for the cost of just one Super Bowl spot.

Erhardt declined to say how many more ad spots needed to be sold for the Super Bowl. But he said that he did not think the Olympics would present a problem.

"There's such a great demand for sports," said Erhardt ."And the opportunity with the Super Bowl is one in which you're reaching an incredible audience that is actually engaged in the advertising."

Still, according to sources close to NBC, the Peacock Network has already sold more than 90 percent of the ad spots for the Olympics and has set a record with more than $800 million in advertising commitments.

Some prominent Super Bowl advertisers from the past, such as Visa and McDonald's, are said to be mulling skipping this year's Super Bowl in favor of the Olympics. Spokespeople from McDonald's (Research) and Visa were not immediately available for comment.

And a spokeswoman for Procter & Gamble said that while she could not comment about Gillette's plans, P&G was not going to purchase Super Bowl spots for any other P&G brand. The company ran an ad for Charmin in 2004, its first Super Bowl ad, but the company did not advertise during last year's game.

But there's still time for advertisers to reconsider, according to Bill Carroll, vice president and director of programming with Katz Television Group, a media-consulting firm.

"Advertisers for the Super Bowl tend to be willing to pay a reasonable premium to reach a special audience. We don't have Olympic viewing parties. Pretty much to me, that says it all," Carroll said. "This happens every four years. But it seems that the Super Bowl and Olympics somehow find a way to co-exist."

And for large companies with mammoth advertising budgets, it might make the most sense to advertise during both events, said Brill.

"If you have tons of money to burn, you could launch a new campaign with the Super Bowl and follow it up during the Olympics," Brill said.

Still, there's another factor that may be keeping prospective Super Bowl advertisers on the sidelines. Rino Scanzoni, chief investment officer with Mediaedge:cia, a media-buying firm, said that the increased pressure to produce ads that will please critics and viewers has some advertisers nervous. Some companies may skip the game, Scanzoni said, simply because they don't think their ads are good enough.

After all, even if there is supposedly no such thing as bad publicity, it doesn't pay to spend nearly $2.5 million on a spot that will wind up getting panned.

For a recap of last year's Super Bowl ads, click here.

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