A 30-second spot during this year's Super Bowl went for $2.3 million. Arizona State and the city of Tempe paid a similar amount ($2.5 million) for the right to host Wednesday's presidential debate.
But there's not much debate about which was the better value.
There was no escaping ASU or Tempe for anyone tuned into the news channels in the hours preceding the debate at Gammage Auditorium.
In the advertising business it's called product placement. ASU/Tempe hoped the debate would do for them what E.T. The Extraterrestrial did for Reese's Pieces.
What lasting effect the multitude of mentions (mostly flattering) will have for the city or the school is hard to quantify. A university economist could probably win a Nobel Prize if he could distinguish between the real benefits of such exposure and how much of it is self-aggrandizing hooey.
Whatever the benefit, ASU and Tempe got the most of it, especially on Wednesday.
Beginning with the morning news shows and right on through the post-mortems, the names of ASU and Tempe fell (and in some cases crashed — frequent references to Tem-PAY) from the lips of commentators and hosts.
At the beginning of the debate telecast ASU president Michael Crow got the stage for a couple of minutes (Ralph Nader must have be greatly amused), which, naturally, he turned into an info-mmercial for the school.
Virtually every TV pitch to the site of the debate began with the announcer saying "Live from Tempe'' or "Live from Arizona State University.'' CNN had an icon that read "Live from Tempe'' in the upper left-hand corner of the screen during most of its debate-related broadcasts. Most news channels broadcast from temporary stages on campus.
ASU officials must have been particularly pleased with MSNBC's "Hardball with Chris Matthews." The show opened at 4 p.m. to the sight of the ASU band playing the school's fight song and Matthews repeatedly reminding the audience that the show "is coming to you from Arizona State University.''
ASU coffee mugs served as table-top props during the show's panel discussions.
At the media center, ASU got big exposure from an enormous banner that was prominent in all TV interviews held there.
As you might suspect, all this exposure was hardly incidental.
"It's been a month-long effort to sort of create an awareness of ASU,'' said Carolyne Kennedy, Director of Media Relations at ASU. Kennedy said ASU made calls to the news channels and major newspapers to establish contact.
"Hello, CNN? This is Arizona State We're not the Wildcats.Thank you.''
What didn't get much attention was Phoenix. Paula Zahn mentioned that Kerry had arrived at "the Phoenix airport'' during her show on CNN. Other than, that nobody seemed to pay much attention to the big city next door.
A call to city of Phoenix Public Information Officer Toni Maccarone was not returned. She was probably out at the Phoenix airport with Paula Zahn.
That Phoenix was not credited as being the site of the debate was no surprise to former Tempe mayor Neil Guiliano, one of the organizers of the debate who now does community relations work for ASU. "Maybe 10 years ago it would have been different,'' he said. "But I think Tempe has established an identity now.
At the last debate it was "That's all from St. Louis, now it's on to Tempe.' ''
Guiliano's probably right. Tempe is a big deal, now. If Glen Campbell was just starting out now, he'd hit the charts with ''By the Time I Get To Tempe.''