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With the oddsmakers already declaring Super Bowl XXIX next Sunday as an embarrassing mismatch, it must be noted that the actual football game is now about as important to Super Bowl Weekend as the Nativity has become to Christmas. Marketing hoopla has taken over.

Advertisers spending $1 million or more for a precious 30 seconds on the telecast have teaser spots going and the public relations mills grinding in order to remind viewers of the panoply of new and exciting advertising that regularly festoons the game.

There are sponsored contests and sweepstakes leading up to the event, both for consumers and sales staffs. We've even got a Super Bowl reader participation poll in this issue of Advertising Age, and the emphasis is where it rightfully belongs-on the ads.

But for a lot less than that $1 million per half-minute, some 50 sponsors are backing a three-day "NFL Experience" amusement park-type attraction in the parking lot of Miami's Joe Robbie Stadium, where the game will be played. No tickets for the game? C'mon down anyway. NFL Properties will have 75 pro players on hand to help promote the fun and games, and TV will cover many of the events. At least one advertiser-Arthur Andersen & Co.-is even cashing in by bragging that it's not advertising on "the Big Game" (can't use the Super Bowl name without permission, of course; that's the property of the NFL).

Sure, the NFL and the game advertisers would like a close contest between two big-city teams each year, but the mega-bucks marketing and promotion has institutionalized the weekend. We should in fact be thankful that marketing will preserve the weekend, regardless of the point spread. With the growing diversity of TV programming, we need this gathering place. Because except for the occasional white Bronco cruising an LA freeway, it's now about the only time America sits down together to watch television.

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