Corporate Eye

Which Brands Spent the Most on TV Sports Advertising in 2011

In the United States, advertising during sports programming can be a pricey investment, but it works. That’s why so many brands invest so heavily in national TV sports advertising. According to Nielsen, national television sports advertising rose to $10.9 billion in advertising expenditures between Q4 2010 through Q3 2011. That’s up from $10.3 billion during the same period a year prior.

Interestingly, Nielsen also reports that the bulk of those advertising dollars are going to cable sports programming, which is growing at 37.3% year over year vs. the 5.9% growth rate that sports ad spending is seeing in general. Furthermore, the amount of live sports programming offered on TV and cable increased by a similar amount in 2011 — approximately 5%.

So who were the big sports television ad spenders in 2011? The top 10 advertisers in sports were responsible for 26% of the total amount spent during the Q4 2010 to Q3 2011 time period, led by one company that outspent the #2 company on the list by more than 100%. Here are the top 10:

  1. AT&T Wireless = $423.5 million
  2. Bud Light = $210.2 million
  3. Verizon Wireless = $207.7 million
  4. McDonald’s = $164.9 million
  5. DIRECTV = $160.5 million
  6. Geico = $158.1 million
  7. Sprint Wireless = $147.4 million
  8. Southwest Airlines = $143.5 million
  9. State Farm Insurance = $127.5 million
  10. Miller Lite = $126.6 million

What do you think about the advertising spending by these companies that’s dedicated to sports programming? Seems like a great opportunity for other brands to stand out from the brands that consumers are used to seeing one commercial break after another.

It’s important to point out that the increase in sports TV advertising spending has been on an upswing for the past three years. In 2008, national sports ad spending (network TV and cable) was $9.88 billion, but then it dropped to $8.28 billion in 2009. Spending increased significantly in 2010 to $10.38 billion and rose again in 2011 to $10.98 billion.

If 2012 Super Bowl ad sales are any indication this will be another good year for sports advertising spending. According to Adweek, the average 30-second ad for the 2012 game cost $3.5 million or more and all ad spots were sold by the end of November 2011 (most were sold by the beginning of September 2011) . Interestingly, Bud Light is the game’s sponsor, and auto manufacturers are the biggest buyers of ad time during the 2012 Super Bowl.

Image: Flickr

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Susan Gunelius is the author of 10 marketing, social media, branding, copywriting, and technology books, and she is President & CEO of KeySplash Creative, Inc., a marketing communications company. She also owns Women on Business, an award-wining blog for business women. She is a featured columnist for and, and her marketing-related articles have appeared on websites such as,,, and more. She has over 20 years of experience in the marketing field having spent the first decade of her career directing marketing programs for some of the largest companies in the world, including divisions of AT&T and HSBC. Today, her clients include large and small companies around the world and household brands like Citigroup, Cox Communications, Intuit, and more. Susan is frequently interviewed about marketing and branding by television, radio, print, and online media organizations, and she speaks about these topics at events around the world. You can connect with her on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, or Google+.