Super Bowl XLVIII, by the Numbers


“Seriously?” I asked John Kiernan as we sat in the lounge waiting for Sunny Brown to begin her second comedy set. 

“Seriously.  1.25 billion.”

“Who would have thought so many chicken wings would be consumed in one day?”

“It’s just one number that speaks to how big this event is, from ticket prices to advertising rates to how much consumers spend on food and drinks for their parties.”

John is the senior researcher for WalletHub, a relatively-new financial resources company. “We’re an anything money-related company,” he explained.  “We offer financial education and advice and cover financial topics in articles, studies, and reports about spending related to significant events.”

“For example…?” I prompted.

“We did a report about the financial impact of the government shutdown, a return-on-investment look at ObamaCare, and this week we released our statistical audit of the Super Bowl.”

“I’m inclined to think one of those things is not like the others.”

“Well,” John said, “the Super Bowl has such an impact on the economy and is such a game of numbers, which are all tied together, that there’s no shortage of ways to look at it.”

Such as the number of wings that will be consumed on Super Bowl Sunday.  Or the four million bucks it costs advertisers to buy 30 seconds of air time during the game.  Then there are the 78 million social media posts that will be made about it.  And the 169 million people who will tune in to watch the Seahawks and Broncos.

A former sports reporter who studied journalism at the University of Maryland, John acknowledged that some of WalletHub’s findings could be regarded as surprising.

“Most people understand how big the Super Bowl is, but when you really look at the precise numbers, such as how many people will watch the game and the 180 countries and more than 30 languages in which it will be broadcast, it really speaks to the enormous worldwide appeal of the event.”

“The advertising numbers sound pretty enormous too,” I observed.

“People understand how expensive a Super Bowl ad is, but when you look at how much individual companies have spent on ads, it’s staggering.  Anheuser-Busch, for example.  They’ve spent $145.9 million on Super Bowl ads since 2009.”

“You mentioned ticket prices earlier.  How high are they getting?”

“Actually, average ticket prices have been expected to fall the closer to game time.”

“Really?  I’d have expected the opposite.”

“Normally that would be the case, but a lot of attention is on the weather this year.  There’s a 21 percent chance of frozen precipitation and temperatures of less than 25 degrees.  The last thing the NFL wants is the game to run over into Monday.  That’s why they have 800 snowplows on standby.”

“And that’s what’s causing ticket prices to drop?”

“That, and the fact that Seattle and Denver are not that close to New Jersey also has a lot to do with it.  Last week, the average ticket price was $4,000.  This week, it was $3,000, and it could still fall to a point that would be lower than it’s been for any of the past five Super Bowls, which shows the potential for bad weather in practical terms.”

“But isn’t football’s ability to be played in extreme weather part of its appeal?”

John nodded.  “Some of the most celebrated games in NFL history have been played in super cold conditions with massive amounts of snow.  Fans like conditions like that and seeing how players react to it, but they don’t necessarily want to be there for it.”

“Meaning they’d rather watch it at home?”

“With the fantasy aspects and improvements in TV quality, at-home viewership has gotten so good that finding ways to attract fans to stadiums has become a large obstacle facing the league moving forward.”

“Even in the post-season?”

“That’s right.  There was some talk about local blackouts of the early-round playoff games this year because they weren’t selling enough tickets.  It used to be unheard of that a playoff game wouldn’t be sold out.”

“So who are you pulling for?”

John considered.  “The Broncos.  The Seahawks’ players don’t appeal to me this season, and I don’t like the way they play defense.  And if Peyton Manning wins another Super Bowl, we won’t have to listen to the debate any more about him being overrated or irrelevant at this stage of his career.”

“You don’t sound certain about that.”

“Well, if I were betting, I’d go with the Seahawks.  I think because of all the attention on Manning and the Broncos, the best value proposition is on the Seahawks.”

“Did your analysis include sports books?” I asked.

“It did.  There’s actually more gambling related to the Super Bowl than I would have thought.  Vegas books are expecting a profit of $8 million, but people will wager more than $98 million, which goes all the way down to the casual fan who gets involved in an office pool.  And if you consider investing a gamble, the stock market index is even affected by the Super Bowl.”

“How’s that?”

“In years when an NFC team wins, the S&P 500 goes up.  When an AFC team wins, it goes down for the year.  That’s proven accurate 79 percent of the time.”

“So if you have a lot of money in the market…”

“Yes,” John said as Sunny took the stage again, “you might want to pull for the Seahawks.”

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