By Lisa Richwine and Jessica Toonkel
(Reuters) - Donald Trump's presidential campaign is buying commercial time on a TV station in West Palm Beach, Florida, taking on opponents in a paid media battle that the Republican front-runner has largely avoided so far.
The March 15 nominating contest in Florida, a winner-take-all vote, is seen as one of the last chances to slow Trump's momentum after a string of victories on Super Tuesday. One SuperPAC allied with rival presidential candidate Marco Rubio has already shelled out millions in the state.
The race has become a fight between Trump and anti-Trump interests, which should drive new demand for ads, said Mark Egan, chief client officer of Maxus Americas, a media agency owned by GroupM.
"The big war really starts now," he said.The billionaire candidate to date has relied heavily on free air time and Twitter, largely ignoring television.
On Thursday he began purchasing commercial slots for the first time on West Palm Beach station WPTV, said Lloyd Bucher, vice president and general manager of the station, an NBC affiliate. He declined to discuss the amount.
SuperPACs that oppose Trump are gearing up in the state.
Conservative Solutions, a SuperPAC allied with Rubio, has aired or distributed $4.8 million worth of ads and direct mail in Florida that explicitly opposes Trump, according to Federal Election Commission data from Friday through Tuesday. That is the most spent by a candidate-allied SuperPAC against Trump in a single state so far.
TV stations in states with upcoming primaries are fielding more inquiries from outside groups opposing Trump, said Steve Lanzano, president and CEO of TVB, a trade body for television broadcasters.
"You are seeing a lot more SuperPACs coming out of the woodwork," he said.
Election years typically provide windfalls for local TV stations as candidates blanket airwaves. Ad spending in the weeks leading up to the South Carolina primary was four times the level of 2012, Lanzano said.
Some media investors and analysts are concerned Trump may continue to rely mostly on free media exposure, which would hurt the revenues expected for local stations.
Lanzano believes the Trump campaign will start buying more time to fight back against the attacks coming his way.
"I think he is going to spend a lot of money on advertising ultimately," Lanzano said. "He is going to get bombarded."
(Reporting by Lisa Richwine in Los Angeles, Jessica Toonkel in Hollywood, Florida, and Grant Smith in Washington; Editing by G Crosse, Peter Henderson and Andrew Hay)