CBS Halfway to a Super Bowl Sellout

Despite GM snub, inventory is in high demand

General Motors may have motored away from its traditional Super Bowl advertising commitments, but the loss of the auto giant hasn’t had a material impact on CBS.

According to CBS Corp. chief financial officer Joseph Ianniello, the network has already sold 50 percent of its available units in Super Bowl XLVII, which is set to kick off in New Orleans on Feb. 3, 2013.

“Demand for the Super Bowl is very, very healthy,” Ianniello said Wednesday, during a Q&A at the Bank of America Merrill Lynch Global Telecom & Media Conference in London. “As we sit here today, we’re over 50 percent sold-out at prices that…are very impressive, higher than last year’s Super Bowl.”

On average, sponsors ponied up a record $3.5 million for each 30-second spot that aired during last year’s game on NBC, although at least one late entry paid as much as $4 million.

Just days after the New York Giants defeated the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XLVI, CBS Corp. Les Moonves told investors that his sales team would command “a potential $4 million per spot” in this year’s NFL title game.

Buyers suggest that CBS is selling units at an average cost of $3.8 million. If that holds, CBS will have earned a 9 percent premium over NBC’s going rate a year ago.

Sales are consistent with last year’s effort, when NBC had moved half of its available inventory by May 20. No network cleared more in-game inventory from its plate as quickly as Fox did in 2010. By the first week of June, Fox had already sewn up 80 percent of its Super Bowl XLV business. Those deals were hashed out concurrently with the 2010-11 upfront.

As has been the case for the last several years, the early Super Bowl deals have been driven largely by automotive clients. In 2011, auto dollars added up to $77.5 million dollars, or more than one-third (34 percent) of Fox’s overall take of $227.9 million.

GM’s defection should not undermine CBS’ sales efforts. The automaker purchased four in-game spots in Super Bowl XLVI, a buy that included a 30-second ad during the two-minute warning of the fourth quarter.

As an official NFL sponsor, GM pays as much as $200 million per year for a number of entitlements; among these are the presentation of the Lombardi Trophy and the MVP award, which last year was bestowed on Eli Manning. The Giants’ quarterback was also handed the keys to a 2012 Chevrolet Corvette Grand Sports Convertible, a moment that was beamed to some 117 million viewers.

Having punted away the opportunity to purchase in-game units, GM effectively waived its rights to any postgame sponsorships. A backer for the trophy presentation has not been identified. 

Earlier in the Q&A session, Ianniello acknowledged that CBS has yet to complete any of its upfront deals, noting that the marketplace as a whole has not moved.

“Look, it’s still early,” Ianniello said. “It’s still too early for business to break. Obviously, we’re going to hold out for what we deserve. Our ratings are up in every single key demo and we have a steady schedule. So we feel pretty good about the opportunity ahead.”

Media buyers say that many client budgets remain outstanding, which has prevented any early maneuvering (since it's hard to spend money you don't have). While no one can say exactly when negotiations will begin in earnest, Ianniello expects that CBS will do well for itself.

“It’s going to be healthy, you know, but it hasn’t broken yet,” he said. “But I would expect us to lead the market, whatever it is.”

CBS closed out the 2011-12 campaign ranked first in average total deliveries (11.6 million) and second in the 18-49 demo (3.0 rating). The network’s programming strategy was so successful that it had room for just four new fall series—the comedy Partners and the dramas Vegas, Elementary and Made in Jersey.