In Business Negotiations for Super Bowl I Tape, NFL Stops the Clock

A surprising discovery fails to pay off for a would-be negotiator.

By on / Business Negotiations

The Green Bay Packers beat the Kansas City Chiefs 35 to 10 in Super Bowl I. But that’s not the end of the story. In business negotiations, and particularly sales negotiation, enthusiasm is required when trying to convince our counterparts that we have what they need. But that enthusiasm isn’t always infectious. The tale of a rare recording of the first Super Bowl suggests highlights the importance of negotiation in business and key pitfalls to avoid.

In a story recounted by Richard Sandomir in the New York Times, back in 1975, a man named Martin Haupt, stricken with cancer, handed his ex-wife, Beth Rebuck, a pair of two-inch Scotch recording tapes. Haupt said he had recorded the first National Football League Super Bowl game, in which the Green Bay Packers defeated the Kansas City Chiefs, on the tapes eight years earlier.


Discover step-by-step techniques for avoiding common business negotiation pitfalls when you download a copy of the FREE special report, Business Negotiation Strategies: How to Negotiate Better Business Deals, from the Program on Negotiation at Harvard Law School.

Given that this was the pre-VCR era, Haupt believed the tapes were rare and hoped they could help fund his children’s education. Rebuk stored the tapes in the attic of her house. Haupt died soon after.

Thirty years later, in 2005, a childhood friend of Troy Haupt, Haupt and Rebuck’s son, told him that he’d read in Sports Illustrated that no tape of the first Super Bowl existed—CBS and NBC, which televised the 1967 game, hadn’t bothered to save the tapes—and that any copy that did exist would be worth $1 million. The friend told Haupt that he’d seen his father’s recordings in the family’s attic when they were young.

Troy Haupt unearthed the tapes and made a deal with the Paley Center for Media in Manhattan to have them restored. Through a lawyer, Haupt offered to sell the restored tapes to the NFL for $1 million. The league countered with a far more modest $30,000 offer.

With the NFL refusing to raise its offer, the business negotiations stalled. Eventually, the NFL told Haupt it was uninterested in acquiring the tapes after all—and warned that it would sue him if he tried to sell them to another party. Though Haupt owns the recording, its content is the property of the NFL. Although no other copy of Super Bowl I is known to exist, the NFL put together a reconstruction of the game using the archives of NFL Films—as if to suggest it had no use for Haupt’s tapes.

After conducting business negotiations anonymously for five years, and with Super Bowl 50 fast approaching, Troy Haupt went public to the Times with his frustrations. “It’s like you’ve won the golden ticket but you can’t get into the chocolate factory,” he told Sandomir. With little hope of a big payoff, Haupt said he would like the NFL to agree to jointly sell the tapes and donate some of the proceeds to charity. So far, the NFL has expressed no interest in such a deal.

Haupt blames the NFL for CBS’s recent decision to back out of a deal to pay Haupt $25,000 to air a few minutes from the lost tapes and interview him about the story during Super Bowl 50’s pregame show. Haupt’s lawyer told the Times that the NFL ordered CBS not to pay his client, a charge that an NFL spokesman denied.

The saga suggests the following lessons for those engaged in sales negotiation and business negotiations more generally:

1. Assess and highlight your counterpart’s BATNA.

Before making his opening $1 million offer to the NFL, Troy Haupt may not have anticipated that the NFL would threaten to sue him if he tried to sell the tapes to other buyers. It was a shrewd bargaining move by the NFL that severely worsened Haupt’s BATNA, or best alternative to a negotiated agreement. If a counterpart doesn’t seem to recognize that it has no good options to negotiating with you, you may need to make that point salient.

2. Improve your own BATNA.

The NFL countered Haupt’s high opening offer with an extremely low offer in an attempt to significantly reduce his expectations. Whether the league truly is no longer interested in buying the tapes or is just playing hardball is difficult to say. But the NFL did make a plausible attempt to demonstrate its disinterest in the tapes—and improve its own BATNA—by cobbling together its own, though clearly inferior, reconstruction of Super Bowl I.

3. Weigh hardball tactics against publicity concerns.

By taking his story public, Haupt brought attention to the fact that the NFL was depriving its fans of the opportunity to view a truly historic event. Though it’s smart to bargain hard in a price negotiation, a single-minded focus on dollars can cause us to lose sight of potential advantages of negotiation—in the NFL’s case, the threat of negative publicity, as well as the chance to earn many more millions by selling broadcast rights to Super Bowl I.


Discover step-by-step techniques for avoiding common business negotiation pitfalls when you download a copy of the FREE special report, Business Negotiation Strategies: How to Negotiate Better Business Deals, from the Program on Negotiation at Harvard Law School.

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