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.
The Program’s Place in Super Bowl Collecting
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.
Maybe the best story involving Super Bowl programs comes from David Boss, whose company published the program for the game’s first 25 years. In a column you can read inside the Super Bowl X program from 1976, Boss wrote that a truck carrying Super Bowl II programs slid off the road in rural Georgia during an ice storm but the programs were delivered in time and sold out at the Orange Bowl.
Value of Early Super Bowl Programs
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.
While 50,000-60,000 programs were typically printed during the game’s first nine years, the print run was only about 40,000 for Super Bowl V, making it worth almost the same today as a Super Bowl II or III with most copies sometimes bringing $200 and up on eBay.
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. The Super Bowl XXIV program had a print run of 400,000–some 250,000 fewer copies than the one produced for the XX matchup between the mighty 1985-86 Chicago Bears and the New England Patriots.
Holograms first appeared on programs beginning with Super Bowl XXXVII. That’s the year the league launched two different versions: the hologram cover for the “on site” version and a “national”version. Each year, the latter style 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 with the holographic cover, is the best move as far fewer are printed.
A hardcover version was produced for a few years as well. According to research by collector Dennis Darovich, the Super Bowl XXVI hardcover was the first one issued. However, the Super Bowl XXVII edition was the most limited hardcover program at 1,700 copies printed.
Complete Sets and Autographed Super Bowl Programs
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 49 program is a whopping 288 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.