Matthew Emmons, USA Today

When the Super Bowl Wasn’t Aired Live on Local TV

This Sunday a world audience will be able to view the Super Bowl between the New England Patriots and Atlanta Falcons in Houston, Texas. However, it was not long ago when the big game and previous NFL championships were blacked out in the city of origin. Could you imagine not being able to watch the Superbowl within a 75 mile radius in Houston?

The TV blackout is somewhat archaic and a relic of another time in our television history. The NFL was notorious for blacking out its major championship games in host cities and it was a big deal to the fans way back when.


The 1952 NFL championship game was played at Briggs Stadium in Detroit against the Cleveland Browns. There were 54,577 people in the stands, but you were not able to watch the game locally in Detroit. Fans had to drive past that 75 mile ban to Toledo, Ohio, due to blackout restrictions.


NFL commissioner Bert Bell would only allow the game to be televised locally if the Lions were able to secure a sponsor for the game and guarantee to refund money to any ticket purchaser who asked for it. Lions GM Nick Kerbawy said that there was no sponsor willing to handle the TV and the game was blackout.  


Six years later, the game of the century and the one that put professional football on the map was played in front of a sold out Yankee Stadium between the New York Giants and Baltimore Colts was also blacked out in the New York market.


Fans fled the city in exodus to hotels and saloons in New Haven, Connecticut; South Jersey; and Schenectady, New York to watch the game live at bars, hotels, and friends’ homes. Giants fans would continue the practice of packing hotels and motels throughout the 1960’s and early 1970’s.


The NFL would black out all home games in the city of origin during the regular season and all championship games and Super Bowls in the host city until 1972. The new rule indicated that the game had to be sold out within 72 hours in order to be televised locally.


That meant than the Philadelphia Eagles championship victory over the Packers in 1960 wasn’t seen live in Philadelphia, unless you were one of the 67,325 people in attendance at Franklin Field.


The blackout also prevented Cleveland Browns fans from watching the last championship victory in club history four years later in 1964. There were 79,544 people on hand at Cleveland Stadium, but if you wanted to watch it on TV, you had to travel outside the market to motels and hotels in Toledo, Columbus, or Erie, Pennsylvania.


The only possibility of watching the game in the area from the comfort of your home on your Zenith wood framed TV set with basket weave doors was to play with the antenna in hopes of picking up the game from the CBC feed in London, Ontario.


There were also blackouts in the American Football League for its championship games. The 1968 contest between the New York Jets and Oakland Raiders from Shea Stadium kicked off at 1 p.m., and was only seen on tape delay after the local news aired at 11:30 at night.


When the Super Bowl displaced the NFL championship games, the games were blacked out in the host city. Super Bowl III held in Miami between the New York Jets and Baltimore Colts was blackout for a 75 mile radius, including in the Bahamas.


When the game returned two years later, 75,000 Floridians signed petitions protesting the blackout. NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle’s opinion at the time was that ticket sales for future Super Bowls would suffer if the fans felt they could avoid paying for a stadium seat and watch the game on television for free.


Rozelle agreed to lift the blackout for Super Bowl VII on an "experimental basis", if the game sold-out ten or more days in advance. It did, as with every other game since, and for the first time, fans in the host city were able to watch the game live on TV.

Today, millions of people have the opportunity to enjoy the Super Bowl from their homes along with friends and family members. Super Bowl parties are now a common tradition and reason to invite people over to your homes and perhaps call sick into work the next day.

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