CHICAGO (Reuters) - CBS has sold all the advertising spots for the television broadcast of the National Football League's Super Bowl championship game this coming Sunday, the television network said on Monday.
CBS has come under fire in recent weeks from various groups for allowing a conservative Christian group to air an anti-abortion ad, and for barring a commercial from a dating site for gay men as inappropriate for prime time.
In early December, CBS had sold about 90 percent of the available commercial time for the Super Bowl, with prices for a 30-second spot running close to $3 million. The game typically includes 50 to 60 spots.
"Obviously, we went through a tough upfront this year," Jo Ann Ross, president of sales for CBS, told Reuters. "You always go into a market place when you have high-ticket items like the Grammys and the Super Bowl and an Olympic year a little bit with a pit in your stomach, but that pit is no longer in my stomach.
"There's still a lot to be said for live events that garner general interest," she added in a telephone interview.
CBS had a great year selling ads for the NFL season and is running ahead of last year's pace on golf and the NCAA college basketball tournament in March -- even closing a deal on Monday morning with an unidentified company for both sports worth more than $10 million, Ross said.
The Super Bowl is the biggest advertising event of the year. Commercial rates run far above what other TV events command, partly because the game draws around 95 million U.S. viewers.
More Americans enjoy the ads than the action on the field, a recent Nielsen study found. A study by ad agency Venables Bell & Partners showed that 66 percent of viewers remember their favorite advertiser from the 2009 Super Bowl, compared with 39 percent recall of which team won.
Among the top advertisers for this year's game in Miami between the Indianapolis Colts and New Orleans Saints on February 7 are Anheuser-Busch InBev Budweiser and Bud Light beers.
A year ago, with the recession in full swing, companies sharply scaled back budgets and sales slowed in the final weeks before the game.
Big ad buyers FedEx Corp and General Motors Co skipped advertising entirely on last year's game.
Still, General Electric Co's NBC eventually sold out all the spots for a record $206 million.
Not everything has been smooth for CBS. U.S. women's groups urged the network not to air an ad by Focus on the Family, claiming it has a strident anti-abortion rights message. CBS has approved the ad.
Last week, CBS rejected an ad from Mancrunch.com as inappropriate, leading a spokesman for the gay male dating website to call the network anti-gay. CBS also questioned the company's credit history.
CBS reviews hundreds of ads a day for its shows, working with advertisers to rework spots it deems inappropriate. It recently rejected as inappropriate a proposed tagline for Electronic Arts new "Dante's Inferno" video game, due out February 9, shying away from "Go to hell" in favor of "Hell awaits."
(Reporting by Ben Klayman. Editing by Robert MacMillan and Gerald E. McCormick)