Fox Is Finishing Up Its Super Bowl Ad Sales, With Spots Selling for Nearly $5 Million

Sunday will be ‘the highest revenue day in Fox history’

Brands are shelling out close to $5 million per spot for Super Bowl LI, as Matt Ryan's Atlanta Falcons face off against the New England Patriots.
Getty Images

Three days before Super Bowl LI, Fox is almost done wrapping up its ad sales for the game.

Advertisers paid close to $5 million per spot, which is more than the $4.8 million that CBS averaged for last year’s Super Bowl, but less than the $5-million-plus that the network had been seeking from buyers last month. While there is still some work to be done, “we are going to finish with the highest revenue day in Fox history, and it will be the highest average unit rate in Super Bowl history. We sold extremely successfully,” said Bruce Lefkowitz, evp ad sales, Fox Networks Group.

Lefkowitz said “98 percent” of Super Bowl ad units sold bundled Fox’s linear feed, streaming video and for the first time, its Spanish-language sports network, Fox Deportes. Last month, Fox Sports announced that its livestream of the Super Bowl will be unauthenticated (i.e. no cable or satellite login required) and for the first time, it will feature local ad integration, with more than 170 Fox affiliates programming the same ads for linear and digital broadcast.

During Fox’s last Super Bowl three years ago, the network had sold all of its in-game spots by Dec. 3, averaging $4.2 million for each one, but Lefkowitz said that has “no relevance” to this year’s Super Bowl sales.

After Fox wrapped its Super Bowl sales early three years ago, “does anybody mention, know or care than 10 percent of those spots were unsold and resold before the kickoff?” he said. “Super Bowl sales are no different than the game itself. Just cause you’re up 35-0 at halftime, doesn’t mean you don’t have to play the second half. We really do focus on the fact that the game isn’t over until the clock strikes zero.”

One month ago, Fox still had a handful of slots available for the game. The company said there was a flurry of last-minute activity over the weekend and early this week.

Super Bowl sales are no different than the game itself. Just cause you’re up 35-0 at halftime, doesn’t mean you don’t have to play the second half.
-Bruce Lefkowitz, evp ad sales, Fox Networks Group

Last year, CBS also did not wrap its Super Bowl sales until the last minute, part of CBS Corp. CEO, president and chairman Leslie Moonves’ plan to maximize revenue by holding back a few spots and giving a desperate advertiser the chance to pay through the nose at the 11th hour and get into the game.

But Fox said it wasn’t mirroring CBS’ approach. “Matchups move the needle more in the regular season than the Super Bowl. I don’t necessarily think that if you had the Dallas Cowboys in the Super Bowl—and theoretically it would do 5 million more viewers than it will now—that somebody who was thinking about [advertising] would said, ‘If it does 113 million, I’m not going to buy it. But if it does 118 million…,’” Lefkowitz said.

Still, he admitted that some Texas-based brands might have been more likely to buy a spot if the Cowboys had made it in, just as the Green Bay Packers’ inclusion could have opened the door for a brand like State Farm, which has quarterback Aaron Rodgers as its spokesperson. “But by and large, I think that advertisers make their decisions based on marketing objectives and the scale of the event,” he said.

Lefkowitz said this season’s softer NFL ratings had no effect on Super Bowl ad rates, noting that Fox had record NFL revenue this year, and had the highest revenue ever for playoff games. Fox’s regular season NFL ad revenue increased 2 percent this season, while its average unit cost for a 30-second NFL spot was up 6 percent, jumping from $519,592 to $551,497, according to Standard Media Index. “Our NFL season was more than pretty good. It was a great year for us,” said Lefkowitz.

Nor was there any fallout from the presidential election. “I don’t think there was any political effect whatsoever,” he said.

As more brands are revealing their involvement in this year’s Super Bowl ads (for the latest news on this year’s Super Bowl ads, check out Adweek’s Super Bowl LI Ad Tracker), the lineup will see less of a presence from two traditional Super Bowl stalwart categories, automotive and pharmaceutical. Lefkowitz said there are fewer new car launches in 2017 than in recent years, while pharmaceutical ads are tied to FDA approvals and there seem to be fewer of those this year.

Taking their place will be packaged goods, which are making a Super Bowl comeback, with two P&G brands, Mr. Clean and Febreze, already announcing that they’ll be making their Super Bowl debuts this year. (They’ll be joined be a third P&G brand, Tide, which has previously advertised in the Super Bowl.) “If you look at the big packaged goods advertisers, traditionally they buy on bulk and efficiency, and they want the cheapest price,” said Lefkowitz, who noted that it echoes when consumer products companies switched a big chunk of money from linear to digital, only to return to TV market a year later.

Fox has been completing its Super Bowl sales as the Fox Network Group ad sales chief position has been vacant since Toby Byrne abruptly left in September. However, buyers said last month that the other ad sales execs have held down the fort in his absence.

“The truth of the matter is that nothing changed in our organization other than having Toby here in terms of the day to day organization. In terms of what my job was beforehand, everything funneled up to me, and then I funneled up to Toby. We didn’t feel like we missed a beat, and our customers have told us that,” Lefkowitz said.