NFL Super Bowl Ad Rights Holders’ Unhappy


The National Football League’s TV rights holders, who pay a combined $3 billion annually to air its games, are angry with the league for not doing more to get its official sponsors to advertise in the Super Bowl, Media Week reports.  Airing out feelings that have been festering for a number of years now, the networks say the NFL has made it clear that the increased difficulty in selling ads in the Super Bowl is their problem.  The networks grumble that official sponsors of the other professional sports leagues are more active in advertising in big, post-season events like Major League Baseball’s World Series and the National Basketball Association Finals than NFL sponsors are in the Super Bowl. 

During the most recent Super Bowl telecast on CBS, only six of the NFL’s 21 official sponsors ran ads. (Official sponsor Coors cannot run in the Super Bowl because Anheuser-Busch has exclusive rights in the beer category.) Network executives, none of whom would speak for fear of attribution, conceded that while large NFL sponsors like Burger King, Canon, Subway, Tropicana, IBM and Procter & Gamble do advertise during the regular season and playoff games, they are not regular Super Bowl advertisers.  Considering the amount of money they pony up for rights fees, the networks argue that it is incumbent on the NFL to do more to get each of its official sponsors to buy at least one in-game Super Bowl spot.  “What is even more galling,” said one network executive, “is that many of these advertisers want to be in the cheaper pregame show, as close to kickoff as possible, but won’t run an in-game ad.” 

NFL representative Brian McCarthy stated that over the past three Super Bowls, NFL sponsors have bought 20 percent of in-game ad time.  But, he said, he does not foresee the NFL putting in a clause demanding that its sponsors advertise during the Super Bowl.  “Mandates are tough,” allowed one network executive.  “But the NFL needs to be working closer with its sponsors to get them into the Super Bowl.”  Many advertisers have shied away from the Super Bowl because of the hefty price ($2.6 million for a 30 second spot) and all the critical attention put on the creative aspect.  McCarthy said that because viewership is so much greater for the Super Bowl — making the price of a 30-second spot so much greater than positions during the NBA Finals or World Series—it’s difficult to make an apples-to-apples comparison.

The networks retort that their NFL-rights fees are higher than for the other sports, putting an onus on the league to do more to help monetize their return on investment.  “Most of the NFL’s sponsors spent hundreds of millions, if not billions, of dollars on advertising across all platforms,” said one network executive.  “There’s no reason why the NFL can’t mandate that they each spend another $2.5 million on one Super Bowl ad to support the telecast of the league’s biggest event of the season.”

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