The economic slump has prices for Super Bowl commercial time falling for only the second time in its history, but it is still the most expensive time on television.
TNS Media Intelligence said Monday that 30-second commercials during next month's Super Bowl on CBS are selling for between $2.5 million and $2.8 million. Last year, ads averaged $3 million on NBC — a record, according to TNS.
Some big players like Pepsi and General Motors are staying on the sidelines. This leaves holes for smaller companies such as Diamond Foods and Dr Pepper Snapple to get their wares in front of 100 million viewers.
It's unclear how much revenue Super Bowl advertising will generate for CBS. While not conceding that ad rates have slipped, CBS said the pace of sales has been better than it was for NBC a year ago.
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"We believe our pricing is similar and believe we are in a better sellout position than they were at this time going into the game," said John Bogusz, executive vice president for sports sales and marketing at CBS Television.
CBS won't say what it paid for the rights to the Super Bowl. The three networks that now alternate carrying the game, CBS, NBC and Fox, get it in a package along with the games they broadcast through the football season.
In economic downturns, companies are more likely to buy Super Bowl advertising when they want to make an impact by jump-starting a brand or introducing themselves, said Tim Calkins, a marketing professor at Kellogg School of Management.
But it's an expensive proposition for companies like Pepsi and FedEx that would otherwise simply remind people they're still out there.
One advertiser lured in for the first time was vacation-rental Web site HomeAway.
"We certainly had a hunch that it wasn't going to be massively overpriced versus last year. We had a hunch there'd be some wiggle room," said CEO Brian Sharples.
About 20 to 25 percent of each year's Super Bowl advertisers are new, according to TNS. The average tenure for advertisers is three to four years before dropping out.
Some return, like Diamond Foods, which last advertised in the Super Bowl in 2007. It's coming back this year with one commercial featuring Emerald Nuts and Pop Secret, a brand it bought from General Mills in 2008.
Big money is at stake. From 1990 through last year, the Super Bowl game has generated $2.17 billion of network sales including 1,400 commercials from 210 advertisers, TNS said.
The 2009 Super Bowl brought in $213 million in advertising revenue — just for ads airing during the game, not pregame or post game. That was a 14 percent increase from the previous year's $186.3 million, when the average 30-second slot cost $2.7 million.
The only other year that prices declined was from 2006 to 2007, when 30-second slots dropped from $2.5 million to just under $2.4 million, TNS said. Prices first crossed the million-dollar threshold in 1995, and then $2 million just five years later.