U.S. News

02.02.14

Want a Super Bowl Boost for the Economy? Root for Seattle.

Why you should be cheering for the Seahawks to win—by a lot—on Sunday. How an economist views the game and the evidence from XLVII years on the gridiron.

So, there’s some sort of football game this weekend. NFL purists—if such a thing still exists—may recoil at such sacrilege, but the New York/New Jersey-hosted game is yet another opportunity for economic analysis. And those rooting for the economy might want to get on the bandwagon for a victory by the Seattle Seahawks.

The Super Bowl has been around long enough, XLVII years, to provide an opportunity to track whether the results of the game mean anything in the real world. Stock-market watchers have watched this trend for years, with the game’s winner informing the Super Bowl Indicator: a superstition about the market’s bull or bear prospects for the year ahead.

But when it comes to the American economy as a whole, there may be a relationship there, too.

In its 47-year history,  National Football Conference teams have won 25 times; the American Football Conference team has prevailed 22 times. And as each conference has surged, there has been a different effect on the economy.

In years when the NFC team has won, the nation’s gross domestic product—reported to have grown 1.9 percent in 2013—grew an average of 3.1 percent. In years when the AFC won, GDP expanded 2.6 percent. Over the course of Super Bowl history, GDP growth averaged 2.9 percent per year.

If the difference based on the conference winner isn’t enough of a reason to root for Seattle, consider GDP has been negative in just seven of the first 47 years of the Super Bowl: four times when the AFC representative won and three when the NFC won.

Beyond the specific teams, the point spread—the size of the victory, or loss—may also be a factor in economic performance for the rest of 2014.

Yet there also may be some reason to cheer on Denver, this year’s AFC representative. The Broncos have won two Super Bowls—beating Green Bay 31-24 in 1998 and Atlanta 34-19 in 1999. In each of those years, GDP growth averaged 4.6 percent.

Seattle has never won a Super Bowl and indeed is making only its second appearance in the big game. In 2006, when the team last appeared in the Super Bowl (and lost to the Pittsburgh Steelers), the GDP grew 2.7 percent.

Denver has lost the Super Bowl four times, with GDP growth averaging 3.8 percent in those four years.

Beyond the specific teams, the point spread—the size of the victory, or loss—may also be a factor in economic performance for the rest of 2014. Larger point spreads tend to be better for the economy.

When the point spread has been 10 points or less, as it has been in 16 games, the economy grew 2.4 percent on average. But in the 11 games when the point spread was 20 points or more, the economy grew an average of 3.5 percent per year. Nine of those games were won by NFC teams.

That said, in 1990—a game in which the San Francisco 49ers defeated the Broncos by 45 points, 55-10—the largest point spread in Super Bowl history, the economy grew just 1.9 percent.

When the AFC team is held to two touchdowns or less—as Denver has been three times—GDP growth averaged 3.7 percent. When the AFC team scores 30 points or more—as Denver has twice—GDP growth averaged 3.4 percent.

In the 11 years when the NFC team scored 14 points or less, GDP growth averaged just 2.7 percent. But in the 17 years in which in the NFC team ran up 30 points or more, GDP growth averaged 3.2 percent. In the years in which the NFC team scored 50 or more points—the 1993 game in which Dallas beat Buffalo 52-17 and the 1990 San Francisco-Denver game—GDP growth averaged 2.3 percent.

High-scoring games, regardless of the winner, might be slightly better for the economy. In the eight years in which total points exceeded 60, the economy grew an average of 2.8 percent. In the 17 years in which the two teams scored fewer than 40 points, GDP growth averaged 2.6 percent.

Not being a football fan though, the number I’m looking at for the game on Sunday is 12: 12 days until pitchers and catchers report.

Hear Mark Lieberman every Friday on P.O.T.U.S. (Sirius-XM 124) at 6:20 am Eastern Time. Follow Mark Lieberman on Twitter at @foxeconomics.