Two words of advice for advertisers still considering the 2014 Super Bowl: Act fast.
Super Bowl ad slots are already 85% sold out and will be 90% gone by the time the NFL season begins in less than two weeks, Neil Mulcahy, executive vice president of Fox Sports sales tells USA TODAY.
Fox won't say what it's charging for the ad space, but top media buyers say some of the game's 30-second slots are going for north of $4 million, vs. the $3.8 million average for CBS for its 2013 broadcast.
"It's selling the way the No. 1 show on TV should sell," says Mulcahy, who notes that some slots were sold as part of ad packages along with its new Fox Sports 1 network and other sports events. "We're seeing more and more dollars come to sports - particularly live sports."
The sales pace and unit pricing of Super Bowl ads historically make for a reasonable barometer of the health of the nation's broadcast business - and, arguably, even the state of the U.S. economy. During the depths of the recession, Super Bowl ad sales slowed and prices fell, but they've picked up handsomely over the past several years.
"This all sounds very healthy," says Jon Swallen, chief research officer at Kantar Media, which monitors media ad placements. "The trend line on the Super Bowl is for pricing to inch up $100,000 to $200,000 per year." The current $4 million per 30-second slot range "is within the cross hairs of what it should be," he says.
Even then, Swallen advises to keep an eye open for the number of new advertisers to the Big Game in 2014, which can be especially telling. "For everybody who is crowding to get into the theater, they only get in when someone else drops out."
Mulcahy says there will be several new advertisers this go-round. "Everyone will be blown-away by one or two upcoming announcements," he says.
Last month, the financial software firm Intuit announced that it would be a first-time Super Bowl advertiser in 2014, with an offbeat plan to give one small business a free, 30-second Super Bowl commercial.
The strongest ad category for the Super Bowl, once again, is autos, Mulcahy says. While he declined to name specific auto advertisers, he said "most of the folks from last year's game are back, though one of two will not be there." At the same time, he noted, "at least one that wasn't in last year will be in this year."
Longer Super Bowl ads will likely continue in 2014, although there may be fewer ads that are two minutes or longer, and more ads that are 60 or 90 seconds, he says.
In any case, there aren't a lot of spots left, Mulcahy notes, for the game that takes place Feb. 2, 2014, at the New Jersey Meadowlands. "This week, we had a slew of units come in."