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Insurance, big tech companies drive CBS NFL ad sales past 80% sell-through level

Buoyed by increased spending from insurance and big technology companies, CBS (US) is pacing ahead of last year for advertising sales against National Football League programming.

John Bogusz, executive vice president of sports sales and marketing, said in an interview at the NFL on CBS Media Day on Aug. 13 that the company's sell-through level exceeds where it was at this stage a year ago. During the 2018 version of the event held Aug. 28, Bogusz said CBS had sold NFL inventory in the 80% range.

"We're a bit higher than that now," he said, adding that there are still units available in early-season games. In addition, CBS has more post-season inventory to sell because it has an extra divisional playoff game, as part of the alternating schedule with FOX (US) under the current NFL rights agreements.

Jo Ann Ross, chief advertising revenue officer at CBS Corp., said insurance now ranks as CBS' biggest NFL ad sales category. Bogusz said business has also been strong with tech companies, such as Facebook Inc., Amazon.com Inc., Apple Inc., Netflix Inc. and Google LLC.

Asked about whether CBS has written any business with Walt Disney Co., NBCUniversal Media LLC or AT&T Inc. in support of their upcoming streaming service launches, Ross said the subjects have not been "broached yet."

SNL ImageCBS hosts Danny Kanell and Raja Bell at the Super Bowl
Source: CBS Sports

CBS Sports Chairman Sean McManus noted that last season the network registered a 6% gain to an average NFL game audience of 16.4 million viewers. He expressed optimism about the ratings performance for the upcoming season, which will feature a rematch for the Patriots and Kansas City teams that played in last year's AFC championship game, attracting 53.9 million viewers.

McManus also thinks the upcoming election cycle and politics will not have the same damaging effect on NFL audiences as they did during the 2016 and 2017 seasons.

"In some ways, with everything that's going on politically, sports is even more valuable in terms of just taking a break from all of the other issues that people are worried about," he said. "It's really a respite from what's going on in the world, and that makes the NFL even more valuable."

Hours before the long-awaited reunion with Viacom Inc. was officially announced, when asked at the event about how CBS Sports might change post-merger, McManus declined to provide specific commentary.

"We all know the value of sports television," he said. "Whatever happens to CBS corporately, sports is going to remain an important part of our portfolio."