Any TV broadcast documenting the aura of a major sporting event invariably uses a few setup shots of people tailgating and then walking into the stadium. It's standard operating procedure. And that one audio clip is always used to help set the scene, just outside the front entrance to the stadium of a vendor: "GET YOUR PROGRAM HERE!"
It's been customary over time, that a program sets the stage for any performance, whether it be in the theater or on the playing field. Looking back through the years, the front cover and ensuing pages really etch in stone the moments prior to the game. The last few minutes before kickoff... with suspense in the air, and a time when everyone was geared up with anticipation, wondering who would come out victorious. A quick flip through these books can give a passionate fan goosebumps, bringing back vivid memories of some of the greatest moments in sports history.
Since everything involving the Super Bowl seems to be a collected now, the program would have to be considered the grandfather of Super Bowl memorabilia. They're not tremendously difficult to find (well, at least most of them aren't), are easily stored, look good and are somewhat interactive as a collectible. After nearly a half century of games, the list of most valuable Super Bowl programs is now pretty obvious. Of course ticket stubs are also a hot commodity these days, but there is something special about the program.
The history of Super Bowl programs reflects the history of the game itself. The front covers of the first two programs make no mention of the words "Super Bowl". At the time, it was called the "AFL/NFL World Championship Game". A Super Bowl I program without significant wear usually sells for $250-450. Super Bowl II programs bring $200-400. Like any collectible, the price of a vintage Super Bowl program depends greatly on condition. Are there stains? Creases? General wear? Missing pages are a killer and bring the value down to very little.
The first three Super Bowl programs are the most popular; the first two featuring Vince Lombardi's Packers and the third is known for commemorating the game in which the AFL grew up and Joe Namath grew into a legend. A nice Super Bowl III program can usually be purchased for $125-275.
One of the most unique stories comes from Super Bowl V, when only a few thousand copies reportedly made it to the game because the delivery truck had an accident on the way. The story is told with most of the programs supposedly going into a swamp area en route to Miami during the crash, making this among the most rare Super Bowl program of all and worth almost the same as a Super Bowl II or III with most copies bringing $200 and up on eBay.
Programs are so popular now, that they are released to the public in early January for viewing, well before the teams are decided. Each year, this nationally distributed version has a bar code on the front, whereas the stadium version is printed after the Conference Championships and includes additional information on the two teams. Buying the stadium version, which has recently come with a holographic cover, is the best move as far fewer were printed.
For the most part, programs from the 1970's to the 80's can demand above $50 and up to a few hundred if kept from harm over time. The Super Bowl VII program which featured the coronation of the NFL's only undefeated team, the 1972 Miami Dolphins, do carry a premium. Price vary greatly, based on condition, but you can usually find a decent one for $100-125.
Prices drop as programs became more widely available and collected. More recent editions can be found for $10-$25.
A complete run of 30 Super Bowl programs from the 1967 to 1996 sold via SCP Auctions for a little over $1,800 in late 2014.
It is more likely to find value in an autographed program, as that is one trend that tends to keep these traded widely on eBay and in other collector circles. Some may come with a single autograph, and others with the entire team. A collector at a recent National Sports Collectors Convention was selling an entire run of MVP-signed Super Bowl programs. It's a cool concept since the passage of time will make it difficult to complete a run of MVP-signed programs. Bart Starr, MVP of Super Bowls I and II, has signed quite a few over the years, but health problems mean he may not be doing any more autograph sessions.
The first two decades saw Super Bowl programs of relatively normal size but that, too, has changed. There are more advertisements, more info and more photos. The Super Bowl XLVII program was a whopping 264 pages.
Of course, as with any collectible or artwork, the beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Over the years there have been some beautiful pieces of artwork, and also some that have been subject to scrutiny as could be expected.
You can see nearly 2,000 Super Bowl programs on eBay here.