A Brief History of the Super Bowl Broadcast


© Anthony J. Causi/Icon SMI/Corbis

Sunday will mark the 17th time that NBC has broadcast the Super Bowl, tying it with CBS for the most in NFL history. Here’s a brief history of the Super Bowl on TV.

The AFL-NFL World Championship Game Simulcast

In 1967, NBC and CBS simulcast the first Super Bowl between the Kansas City Chiefs and Green Bay Packers, which was then called the AFL-NFL World Championship Game. NBC and CBS used the same video feed, but different announcers. NBC was still in commercial when the second half kicked off, leading the referee to blow the ball dead while it was in the air. The Packers were asked to kick off again. The simulcast marked the last time that an NFL game was televised on two networks until December 2007, when the league allowed NBC and CBS to show the New England Patriots’ bid to complete a perfect regular season against the New York Giants.

Going Global

The first Super Bowl was broadcast on two networks, but in only one language. Sunday’s game will be shown in more than 180 countries and in 30 different languages.

According to David Tossell, director of public affairs for NFL International, 15 foreign crews are in Indianapolis to broadcast the game. “That’s a big increase over the last few years,” Tossell said. SiriusXM radio will offer 12 different live broadcasts in eight languages, including English, Spanish, French, Japanese, German, Flemish, Russian, and Mandarin Chinese. Super Bowl XXX between the Dallas Cowboys and Pittsburgh Steelers marked the first time that the game was broadcast in the Navajo language. Former Eagles tight end Chad Lewis, worked as a color analyst for CCTV, a Chinese network, during Super Bowl XXXVIII. Lewis, who played college football at BYU, became fluent in Mandarin while on a Mormon mission to China.

What’s a Super Bowl Broadcast Worth?

Super Bowls regularly rank among the most-watched primetime programs. In fact, the past four Super Bowls rank as four of the five most-watched broadcasts in U.S. history, with the M*A*S*H finale from 1983 now ranked No. 3. More than 110 million people are expected to watch Sunday’s game. According to Forbes, the price of a Super Bowl ad has increased by 5.7% annually over the last 14 years and the average 30-second spot this year cost $3.5 million. (A 30-second spot during Super Bowl I cost $42,000, or roughly $280,000 when controlling for inflation). While NBC will use some Super Bowl ad space to promote its own shows, it should bring in more than $250 million in advertising revenue this year. Given the number of viewers, many analysts consider Super Bowl spots a bargain for advertisers.

Rotating System

From 1968 through 1984, NBC and CBS alternated the rights to the Super bowl. ABC got into the mix in 1985, and garnered buzz leading up to the game by shaking up its announcing assignments. For its Super Bowl debut, ABC bumped O.J. Simpson from the broadcast booth to a studio analyst gig in favor of Joe Theismann, who provided color commentary along with Don Meredith. Frank Gifford handled the play-by-play duties. Fox broadcast its first Super Bowl in 1997 with the familiar team of Pat Summerall and John Madden in the booth. ABC last had the Super Bowl’s broadcast rights in 2006. Since then, the rights have rotated among CBS, Fox, and NBC. Those three networks recently extended their TV deals with the NFL through the 2022 season, with the total combined annual rights fees totaling around $3 billion.