NBC Gobbles Up NFL Ad Dollars

Historic Thanksgiving night broadcast commands a staggering unit cost of $975,000

On Thursday, tens of millions of Americans woozy on tryptophan and cranberry sauce will mark a brand new Turkey Day tradition, as NBC presents the first NFL game to be broadcast in prime time on Thanksgiving. Given the sheer number of citizens who will be couch-locked when the New England Patriots-New York Jets battle kicks off at 8:20 p.m. EST, the Nov. 22 TV event could very well scare up playoff-size ratings.

The network has priced its commercial inventory accordingly, said Seth Winter, evp, sales and sales marketing, NBC Sports Group. “Every single spot in the game—and I do mean every one of them—has a unit cost of $975,000,” he said. “There’s nothing that will air that will cost a dollar more or a dollar less.”

For a regular season NFL matchup, the going rate for a 30-second spot in the Turkey Bowl is nothing short of extraordinary (NFL Network has aired Thanksgiving night games previously before it was widely distributed). According to SQAD NetCosts estimates, a single :30 in NBC’s flagship program Sunday Night Football fetches around $500,000 while media buyers report paying around $535,000 a pop. The price of doing business with NBC on the eve of Black Friday is nearly double that of buying into SNF, TV’s No. 1-rated program.

Along with the opportunity to reach hordes of engaged viewers—as a Golden Delicious-to-Granny Smith comparison, last year’s late afternoon T-Day game on CBS delivered 30.9 million viewers and a 14.3 household rating—most viewers also will be primed to spend a good deal of holiday money in the ensuing weeks. (Per the National Retail Federation, the average American in 2011 spent $704.17 on holiday purchases.)

“Given that we’re the last stop before Black Friday, we’ve seen significantly more interest from retail than we’ve had in the past,” Winter said, before adding that financial services, tech and auto will also be well represented. The unique adjacency to the biggest shopping day of the year also helped justify NBC’s steep unit cost.

“NBC had this dropped in their lap after they renewed their [NFL rights] contract, so they only started taking the game to market after most clients had already put together their budgets,” said one TV buyer. “The potential for a huge captive audience and the proximity to Black Friday and Cyber Monday made it hard to pass up, even at that price.”

Of course, given the inherent lousiness of the Jets, who are 3-6 of this writing and are embroiled in the oddest quarterback controversy ever, the game could turn out to be a ratings-withering blowout. “We think it’s going to do a postseason-like rating,” Winter said. “Even if it’s one-sided, there’s really no competition that night.”