Starting tonight, the wooing of the media covering the Super Bowl begins in earnest. By most accounts, the string of parties for the media on tap in San Diego--ranging from tonight's bash at the Hotel del Coronado and a Tijuana trek to dinner with Shamu and breaking bread with Pete Rozelle--is unprecedented.
And that is saying a lot. If there's one tradition, one aura that has developed around the game, it's that in all of sports, there are no parties bigger, none more lavish or as anticipated than those at the Super Bowl.
Behind the free meals and drinks, the free media pouches branded with Super Bowl logos, the free mementos sent to many sportswriters after the game, the free pens and note pads, there is a purpose.
For the National Football League it's a way of making life easier on reporters--who are encamped in San Diego for a week or more. For San Diego, it's the hope that the wining and dining will leave the media with a favorable impression of the city, an image that, with luck, will wend its way into newspapers, magazines and radio and television broadcasts across the nation and the world.
Do the rounds of festivities have an impact? What does all this emphasis on feeding and watering sportswriters and other media say about journalism, anyway?
Well, say sportswriters, it's really not such a big deal, even if San Diego seems to be going to the greatest lengths ever to accommodate the expected 2,300 media members--1,000 of them working print and broadcast reporters. They are usually too busy, they say, to really partake in the offerings beyond a superficial level. And besides, they will tell you, some of the most publicized functions, principally Rozelle's NFL party, long ago ceased to be a media party.
More important, while the general public might view the entire matter as another example of the media as freeloaders, reporters and the NFL say such skepticism is generally unfounded.
Times in the sports journalism community have changed, they say. Strict ethics codes at many newspapers have put a damper on any obvious quid pro quo between the league and media outlets. Also at play are two other elements, say sportswriters: a reliance on common sense--does anyone really expect a few free drinks to translate into
favorable stories?--and a new generation of sports journalists who grew up in the '60s and '70s and who bring with them a more critical view of all the hoopla.
It all begins tonight at the Hotel del Coronado, where the Super Bowl Press Party, a $150,000 fete just to court the media, will be held between 7 and 9:30. Host is the ocean-front hotel, which this year is celebrating its 100th anniversary, and Pepsi Co. and Coronado merchants. As many as 2,000 people are expected to indulge in 1,200 pounds of spare ribs, 2,000 pounds of roast beef, 2,700 lamb chops, 3,000 hot dogs, 3,000 hot pretzels, 1,500 pounds of hamburger, 100 gallons of chili, 250 gallons of ice cream, 3,000 chocolate and peanut butter cookies, 50 kegs of beer, gallons of wine and hard liquor and special drinks called the Blitz, the Huddle and the Quarterback Sack.
The next night, the party moves to Tijuana--a prospect several sportswriters find intriguing and amusing. Billed as "Super Fiesta Tijuana '88," officials in Mexico plan on closing a portion of Avenida Revolucion, downtown's main street, for a street party. Reporters and NFL VIPs will be bused south of the border and treated to food, liquor, gifts and various forms of entertainment, including a stop at Caliente Racetrack to watch the greyhounds and a visit to the jai alai games at the Fronton Palacio.
'Gourmet Box Dinners'
On Thursday night, Sea World is sponsoring SuperNite Sea World, the largest media party ever sponsored by the aquatic park, according to spokesman Dan LeBlanc. As many as 4,000 people--including all of the accredited Super Bowl media--are expected to eat "gourmet box dinners" and be entertained by the likes of Shamu the killer whale. Six bars dispensing free beverages will be scattered throughout the Mission Bay park. "We're billing it as a media welcome to San Diego," said LeBlanc. "Show them this is Sea World . . . and show them a good time."
On Friday night, Rozelle is putting on his annual bash for about 3,000 at a North Island Naval Air Station hangar, an event where the scramble for tickets is more intense than for entry into Sunday's game.
In between the parties, the media will be provided with open bars at some hotels, as well as golf and tennis tournaments. What is the cumulative impact of all these soirees?
Image of Freeloaders
"I think the man on the street has the perception that sportswriters are a bunch of freeloaders . . . and I hate to say that it's not totally inaccurate, though it's not as prevalent as it once was. Now the emphasis is on paying (our) own way, the plane (tickets) and the dinners," said Edwin Pope, Miami Herald sports editor and columnist for 32 years.