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ESPN 90%, NBC Over 80% Sold Out of NFL Football

NFL ad deals began in May, two months earlier than in recent years, and price hikes were in the 9% range

ESPN has sold 90 percent of its "Monday Night Football" inventory and NBC has sold over 80 percent of its "Sunday Night Football" inventory at price increases said to be in the 9 percent range, individuals familiar with the negotiations told TheWrap.

National Football League ad inventory has been among the hottest selling among advertisers and their media agencies over the past few years, and this year has been no different. In fact, deals for NFL inventory on ESPN and the other networks holding NFL TV rights — CBS, Fox and NBC — started to get done this year in May, more than two months earlier than last year.

Ed Erhardt, president of ESPN Customer Marketing and Sales, would not comment on pricing or sellout levels but told TheWrap, "In the overall advertising marketplace, the NFL is arguably the hottest genre for media buyers."

Seth Winter, senior VP, NBC Sports & Olympics Sales & Marketing, called his network's NFL sellout levels "extraordinary." and in a statement, added, "This marketplace is consistent with what we experienced with the Olympics and the NHL, and what we are continuing to see with golf and tennis. There continues to be a clear advertiser and audience migration to live, event-oriented programming, which is the essence of sports' strength. Advertisers continue to be enamored of all the attributes of sports programming."

Erhardt said not only has the automotive category come back in a big way, but one of the hottest categories is consumer electronics. "MNF," he said, has done ad deals with Samsung, Sony, LG, Panasonic and Vizio. He also said the men's grooming category is solid, with ESPN doing "MNF" deals with Gillette, Dial, Schick and for Unilever products, among others.

Other strong categories on the "MNF" telecasts this coming season will be wireless, retail and movies, Erhardt told TheWrap.

Erhardt said also said ESPN was able to do a good number of deals based on video rights — for the first time for next season, NFL game highlights will be shown on ESPN.com. He told TheWrap a lot of those deals were tied into packages with advertising on ESPN's football shows like "NFL Countdown" and "NFL Live" and with "SportsCenter."

Winter said NBC wrote more than a dozen multi-year deals for "SNF," and added that auto, telecommunications, fast food restaurants, financial/insurance, electronics and packaged goods were all strong categories.

Winter added that NBC is planning to shutdown upfront selling for its "SNF" telecasts this Friday and begin offering any further sales for "SNF" at scatter market pricing.

Sales for NCAA college football telecasts on ABC on Saturday nights, which are sold by ESPN, also were strong, Erhardt said. While he would not comment on pricing, TheWrap learned that those telecasts are also about 90 percent sold at similar price 8-9 percent increases that the NFL "MNF" games got. ABC averaged about 9 percent price increases for its primetime entertainment inventory.

Fox sales executives declined to comment on their NFL sales, while CBS sales execs were not available for immediate comment.

However, media buyers said sales across all the NFL TV rightsholders mirrored one another in both sellout levels and price increases.