A history of Super Bowl hype





Before there was a Super Bowl, there was Super Bowl hype.

The A.F.L.-N.F.L. championship game was a hard sell in 1967, when the leagues were separate and unequal. N.F.L. Commissioner Pete Rozelle needed a prestigious championship game to legitimize a newly minted merger with the less-established American Football League. So Rozelle, a former public-relations specialist, used his marketing expertise to surround the game with hype, or hoopla or ballyhoo, as it was called at the time.

Rozelle adopted the grandiose Super Bowl name — coined by the Kansas City Chiefs’ owner, Lamar Hunt — and he commissioned Tiffany to create the Titletown Trophy (later renamed for Vince Lombardi). He persuaded NBC and CBS to simulcast the game for $1 million each, and he raised Los Angeles Coliseum ticket prices to $12 from $6, to increase revenue and, more important, to give the game prestige.

Rozelle’s promotions initially backfired. Unimpressed reporters called the Titletown Trophy a silver football. The ticket price prevented a sellout, so the first Super Bowl was blacked out within 75 miles of Los Angeles. The Green Bay Packers’ 35-10 victory over the Chiefs did little to convince fans of N.F.L.-A.F.L. equity, and the promotional blitz overshadowed the game.

“The Super Bowl yesterday was a representative example of most television dramas coming out of Los Angeles,” the critic Jack Gould wrote in The New York Times. “The advance buildup was more impressive than the show, and the script fell apart in the second half.”

Forty-three years later, little has changed about the Super Bowl: the buildup is interminable, the game sometimes anticlimactic, and the news media coverage ambivalent, simultaneously mocking and intensifying the pregame hysteria....



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