Why NFL Ad Time Remains Hot, Even For a Season That May Not Exist

Last Updated May 24, 2011 11:07 AM EDT

Business love the NFL so much that they don't care if the season takes place. This year they're moving quickly to buy TV ads for games that no one knows will happen. And the Super Bowl? The Super Bowl is selling even better than usual. So do advertisers know something the rest of us don't? Nah -- they're just demonstrating the same herd mentality that's gotten the U.S. economy to where it is today.
Traditionally, football ad-selling season kicks off after the "upfronts" at which networks unveil their fall line-ups. That has been slowly changing. This year, weeks before upfronts began, car companies are buying time during NFL and college games so fast you'd think they were still using taxpayer money. Super Bowl ads are reportedly selling at the same pace as last year, even though prices are up.

Hey, remember that player lockout?
None of this would be so odd if it weren't for that whole strike thing. As prime time audiences have shrunk, some companies have instead focused on advertising during sports broadcasts, which offer a generally large-ish audience that tends not to fast-forward through the commercials. Those have become so desirable that businesses want to lock up those slots before, say, their rivals do. Not surprisingly, businesses are tackling each other to get slots during college games -- the one season they know will take place.
As far as the networks are concerned, the NFL should have a labor showdown every year. Fox, ESPN, NBC and CBS (BNET's parent company) find themselves in a seller's market for possibly the first time since the economy hit the skids. And they're working it hard. So far they're holding the line on giving companies a chance to get out of their contracts if the games don't get played. So companies will be paying the networks some money for some advertising, although likely at discounted rates.

So, football fans, don't read too much into a bunch of corporations signing big money NFL-related contracts. They're just piling-on -- and hoping there's a football at the bottom of all this.

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    Constantine von Hoffman is a freelance writer and writing coach. His work has appeared in outlets such as Harvard Business Review, NPR, Sierra magazine, Brandweek, CIO, The Boston Herald, TheStreet.com, CSO, and Boston Magazine.