NEW YORK - The price of admission to the Super Bowl football telecast keeps rising, but advertisers still line up early to buy their ticket.
Fox officials said Tuesday all 29 minutes of commercial time in Super Bowl XXXI, set for Jan. 26, have been sold out for several weeks.
This year's prices are believed to be the highest ever paid for television advertising time. The Super Bowl telecast typically attracts the year's biggest audience.
Jon Nesvig, president of sales for Fox Broadcasting, said Fox got as much as $1.3 million for a few 30-second ads in this year's Super Bowl but the average amounted to about $1.2 million, surpassing what NBC got a year ago.
NBC officials don't dispute that Fox may have gotten higher prices this year, but stuck with their estimate of a year ago that they got an average of about $1.2 million for Super Bowl XXX commercials last year.
Neither company is required to publicly report precise figures for ad prices, however, and the package deals that some advertisers get for buying time both in the game and on related shows makes it hard to draw comparisons.
Mr. Nesvig said a generally strong advertising marketplace helped Fox sign advertisers well in advance of the game.
In addition, many advertisers covet Super Bowl time because the telecast typically draws more than 100 million viewers, far more than any other show.
"The Super Bowl is a cultural phenomenon," Mr. Nesvig said.
Super Bowl Sunday has become a near-national holiday where people who seldom watch football often gravitate to parties tied to the game.
Advertisers seize the moment to showcase new advertising and introduce products.
"It delivers such a solid number every year that advertisers can really depend on it and they have been willing to increase what they pay in small increments," said Paul Schulman, who heads a firm that buys media time.
Coca-Cola Co. is returning as a Super Bowl advertiser this year for the first time since 1991 so it can draw attention to its new citrus drink, Surge.
Its archrival Pepsi-Cola has also bought time in the game and has traditionally used the telecast to showcase new commercials.
Four automobile companies have bought time in the game - General Motors, Honda, Nissan and Porsche. So are sneaker rivals Nike and Fila.
Nesvig said 30 different advertisers have bought time, including about a half dozen who will be in the game for the first time. Among them will be Dirt Devil vacuums, which have three 15-second ads.
Missing in action will be Master Lock, which has spent a large portion of its annual advertising budget on a single Super Bowl commercial spot in all but two of the past 23 years.
John Melamed, an executive at the lock maker's ad agency Cramer Krasselt, said Master Lock decided to focus this year on advertising new products aimed at narrow groups, such as home builders. He said the Super Bowl wasn't the right vehicle to reach those targets.
But he said Master Lock could be back in the Super Bowl in 1998.
It is still undecided who will play in the Super Bowl, which determines the champion of the National Football League.
This weekend, Carolina plays at Green Bay for the National conference title while Jacksonville plays at New England for the American conference crown. The winners face off two weeks later in the Super Bowl in New Orleans.
Green Bay is among the league's most storied franchises and New England hails from one of the nation's biggest markets and has experience in the Super Bowl. Carolina and Jacksonville are completing only their second NFL seasons.
Schulman said the ratings could be down 5 percent or more if the two newest teams wind up in the big game because they don't have a national following yet and are both from the same region, the Southeast.
But he added that no matter who plays, the game will remain the year's biggest TV draw.
"It would still be called the Super Bowl and not the `Moderately Good Bowl,"' he said.
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