A Nickelodeon ad for their Super Bowl LVIII broadcast. A Nickelodeon ad for their Super Bowl LVIII broadcast. (Nickelodeon on YouTube.)

One of the questions with Nickelodeon’s first-ever alternate Super Bowl broadcast this year is how it would fly with advertisers. The Nickelodeon alternate broadcasts of NFL on CBS games thus far, including Christmas Day games in 2022 and 2023 and playoff games in 2021 and 2022, have seemed to draw decent reviews, ratings, and ad buys, but the Super Bowl is a different ballgame from an advertising perspective.

And Nickelodeon/CBS parent Paramount Global took an interesting approach with ads for the SpongeBob SquarePants-themed Nickelodeon broadcast. There, they included mirrored ads from the CBS broadcast for most advertisers if they wanted. But they didn’t apply that for prohibited categories (including alcohol, betting, R-rated movies), which left them with significant Nickelodeon-only inventory to sell. And as per a report from Patrick Herren of Ad Age Friday, that inventory hasn’t exactly been flying off the shelves.

Herren spoke to several brand representatives and media buyers for that piece. He wrote that per three media buyers, Nickelodeon is believed to have 13-15 ad slots yet to sell, which would seem to cover many of the Nickelodeon-only slots. That’s despite their vastly lower price, which Herren estimates as around $300,000 at the moment (down from initial asks of $500,000). And some brand representatives who have bought CBS ads are unsure if their ads will be mirrored on Nickelodeon. With less than a month until Super Bowl LVIII on Feb. 11, that doesn’t seem ideal.

Of course, there are still options for Paramount Global if those ads don’t sell. Those could include promotion for other Paramount Global programming, or even additional in-game programming to make the Nickelodeon broadcast stand out. CBS Sports executive vice president (advertising) John Bogusz spoke about some of the Nickelodeon challenges and opportunities on a media conference call this fall:

“Everyone who bought the game, they get both the CBS feed and the Nickelodeon feed. They can run a different piece of creative if they choose on Nickelodeon. …There are a handful of units we’ll have to deal who may not be able to run on Nickelodeon, namely the beers and the gambling units.

“So we will figure out in terms of how we’re going to handle those handful of units; we can promo it, we can possibly have a few extra units to sell on the Nickelodeon side, or we could actually even take some of it back for programming to make the game a little more Nickified. So that is still a work in progress because we want to work with our partners in the game, depending what they want do, in terms of who we sell the game to.”

Judging by those ad sales numbers, this broadcast may wind up with more of those promos or programming. But that’s not for sure at this point; there is still a bit of time left, and the Nickelodeon broadcast remains the main opportunity for anyone still looking to get into the Super Bowl. CBS inventory proper has been “virtually sold out” since November despite a $7 million price tag, and inventory just for the main streaming broadcast on Paramount+ is also reportedly gone except for one or two slots, despite a $1 million price tag and a requirement to purchase other ads on the service. We’ll see if more ads come through for Nickelodeon, or if they wind up going with promos and programming.

While low Nickelodeon-only ad sales may not be what Paramount Global had hoped for with this alternate broadcast, doing a Super Bowl broadcast there at all is somewhat of a proof of concept. The company has experience with these broadcasts now, and knows how they usually go. But taking them to the Super Bowl is a new level. And that’s behind the comments from CBS Sports chairman Sean McManus on that same call this fall that they see the Nickelodeon audience as “added and incremental” rather than main-broadcast competition, and that they see the Super Bowl as a massive platform to grow Nickelodeon:

“We’ve been able to, with our partnership with Nickelodeon, bring them in to the NFL. And there’s nothing that could be as beneficial for them as being associated with the Super Bowl. So we are really excited to have that. And it just shows the breadth and the depth of Paramount Global and the different platforms and assets that we have to grow the NFL and to grow the Super Bowl.”

…Fundamentally, our biggest priority is driving the biggest audience to CBS and our broadcast there, which, as you know, airs on Paramount+ also. That’s our main goal with sports and that’s our main goal with the Super Bowl. However, we think that in very few and select venues, we can bring in a new audience. And I think in many ways Nickelodeon is an added and incremental audience as opposed to an audience that’s being taken away from CBS. Exclusivity for our affiliates is an important priority for us also, and they have that for almost all of the games; they’re making an exception for Nickelodeon.”

The proof of how well this works from an audience standpoint will be in the ratings. And that may determine if CBS does this again the next time they have the Super Bowl, in 2028, and it may impact how many Nickelodeon alternate broadcasts they do in the years before that. (Of course, a lot could change before then, including a potential acquisition or merger for Paramount Global.) But it is notable to hear that advertisers don’t seem high on buying Nickelodeon-only spots right now. We’ll see if that changes before the game.

[Ad Age, Sports Business Journal]

About Andrew Bucholtz

Andrew Bucholtz has been covering sports media for Awful Announcing since 2012. He is also a staff writer for The Comeback. His previous work includes time at Yahoo! Sports Canada and Black Press.