Super Bowl LIV is still 10 weeks away, but Fox Sports’ ad sales team scored a surprisingly early victory: It has already sold out the entire in-game advertising inventory.
Fox Sports sold out all 77 of its in-game Super Bowl spots as of last Friday, according to Seth Winter, evp of sports sales. That means any brand still on the fence about buying an ad during the Feb. 2 game—for as much as $5.6 million per 30-second spot—now finds themselves on the outside looking in.
It’s the earliest a Super Bowl has been sold out in nine years, since 2011’s Super Bowl XLV, which also aired on Fox, wrapped its in-game sales in late October 2010.
Since then, with the exception of the 2014 Super Bowl in New York—which Fox sold out on Dec. 4, 2013—networks haven’t announced sell outs until just hours or days before the game.
Earlier this year, CBS didn’t sell out of Super Bowl LIII inventory until hours before kickoff. In 2018, NBC said it had finished sales two days before the game. And Fox went down to the wire in 2017 with its Super Bowl LI inventory.
But after Winter said just 11 days ago that the game was already 78% sold out, with only 17 of Fox’s 77 in-game spots still up for grabs, the market picked up “incredibly” due to “the very real possibility that brands would be shut out if they didn’t move quickly,” Winter said.
“I was always confident that we’d be sold out, but I thought we would drift into January,” he added. “The fact we sold out almost a week before Thanksgiving was a surprise to all of us.”
Other Super Bowl options for brands
While in-game inventory is sold out, there are other options for brands who still want to be a part of Super Bowl Sunday on Fox. Winter said the break leading into the game is “about 50% sold,” with just a few units remaining; the same goes for the break leading out of the game.
“We have sufficient inventory from 6 [pm] to kickoff. We have a little bit of inventory post-gun [first break after the end of the game],” said Winter. “There is pre- and post-game inventory where they can invest in a significant rating.”
The exec would not comment on whether President Donald Trump or any other presidential candidate had purchased a Super Bowl spot, nor the identity of any other advertisers. (Some brands, like Pop-Tarts, have already confirmed they have purchased spots.) But Winter reiterated what he told Adweek earlier this month: The game’s strongest categories include automotive, technology, beverages, CPG, retail, telco and financial services.
Fox Sports is receiving as much as $5.6 million per 30-second spot, which is a new Super Bowl record. Other than one long-term deal that was transacted “years ago” for below $5 million, “everything we’ve done this year has been north of $5.2 million,” said Winter earlier this month. He told Adweek the average price for a 30-second spot is in the low-to-mid $5 million range.
(Typically, advertisers who only buy a single Super Bowl spot would be charged that higher rate; those who purchase multiple spots in the game or as part of a larger Fox Sports media buy would receive a discounted rate.)
No six-second Super Bowl ads were sold, he said.
Winter was tapped last January to oversee Fox Sports ad sales for the new Fox Corp. He had stepped down in October 2016 as NBC Sports Group ad sales, overseeing three Super Bowls for NBC in that role, and remained with the company in an advisory role through 2018, where he helped contribute to sales for Super Bowl LII.
During his retirement, Winter told Adweek earlier this month, he noticed that “the Super Bowl market moved more slowly than it had in the past. There was a lot of sideline sitting until the very end of the process, which I felt created a disadvantage for those of us that sell the Super Bowl.”
After joining Fox in January, he worked to speed up the process, first by working with the NFL to reduce the number of ad breaks in each quarter, from five to four. The move consolidated inventory into fewer pods, which created fewer A and Z positions (the first and last of each pod), leading to a contraction of premium inventory. As a result, Fox sold out of all its Super Bowl A positions within the last several weeks.
Additionally, Winter made clear that he would be “consistent” with his Super Bowl ad rates. The market knows “we were never going to go into a fire sale mode [for Super Bowl] because we need to protect those people that invest with us early on,” he said. “People may lie in wait, hoping there are units that they can pick off for something less than that which we’re charging. I would never do that.”
The contraction of premium inventory and consistent pricing—along with dwindling linear ratings in just about every other category except for live sports—helped create “urgency” in the market to transact earlier, Winter said.
In addition to the surge in Super Bowl ad traffic, Winter said the overall NFL marketplace—including regular season and postseason—has also “significantly accelerated” in the past week “because we can deliver live scale audience where it’s been elusive everywhere else.”