Expert Commentary

Super Bowl research to tackle before kickoff

Looking to cover the big game even though you don’t work on the sports desk? We’ve gathered and summarized Super Bowl-related research.

Helicopter crews patrol above the Raymond James Stadium in Tampa before Super Bowl LV. (U.S. Customs and Border Protection)

American football is the most popular spectator sport in the United States, and each winter it culminates in the game of all games – the Super Bowl. This year, on Feb. 7, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers will face off against the Kansas City Chiefs. Historically, viewership of the Super Bowl has topped 100 million.

Looking to cover the big game even though you don’t work on the sports desk? We’ve gathered and summarized Super Bowl-related research that looks at issues related to public health, economics, business, technology and crime. Whether you’re covering the game from a local or national perspective, the highlighted findings might offer you some new angles.

You’ll find answers to questions including: Are “Super Bowl Babies” a thing? Sure, people watch for the ads, but do the much-hyped commercials actually boost sales? Does sex trafficking spike around the Super Bowl? What’s the relationship between Super Bowl season and the flu? Can the internet withstand the demands of live streaming the game? And how can investors profit from a Super Bowl-oriented strategy?

Cruise on down to the end zone for our summaries.

“Impact of Direct-To-Consumer Drug Advertising During the Super Bowl on Drug Utilization”
Gray, Matthew P.; et al. Research in Social and Administrative Pharmacy, 2020.

In this paper, researchers assess the impact of prescription drug ads on TV during the Super Bowl. They focus on ads for the drug efinaconazole, marketed under the name Jublia and used to treat onychomycosis, a fungal infection of the toenail. To gauge the impact of the ads, researchers looked at Medicare Part D claims for the drug filed in the months before and after the ads ran during Super Bowl XLIX in 2015 and Super Bowl L in 2016. For comparison purposes, researchers looked at Medicare Part D claims for a similar prescription drug, tavaborole, which also treats onychomycosis but was not featured in Super Bowl ads in 2015 or 2016.

The authors of the paper analyzed claims data collected between July 2014 and December 2016 from a random sample of 5% of all Medicare beneficiaries.

Key findings:

  • After Super Bowl XLIX, the number of claims for efinaconazole prescriptions surged 91% — from 3.7 claims per 100,000 Medicare beneficiaries in the two 31-day periods before the Super Bowl to 7.1 claims per 100,000 beneficiaries in the two 31-day periods afterward. Claims for tavaborole prescriptions, however, soared 275%. The authors write that these results are consistent with prior research showing that direct-to-consumer advertising also benefits competing brands.
  • Following Super Bowl L, the number of claims for efinaconazole increased 21% — from 6.5 claims per 100,000 Medicare beneficiaries in the two 31-day periods before the game to 7.8 in the two 31-day periods afterward. While researchers find that claims for tavaborole rose from 1.9 claims per 100,000 beneficiaries to 2.2 during the same period, the change was not statistically significant.
  • According to the researchers’ calculations, if a TV ad for efinaconazole had not played during Super Bowl XLIX, claim numbers would have grown 40%, not 91%, and claims for tavaborole would have jumped 90%, not 275%. If no ad had aired during Super Bowl L, prescriptions for efinaconazole would have increased by 1% instead of 21%.

“Portrayals of Minorities and Women in Super Bowl Advertising”
Taylor, Charles R.; et al. The Journal of Consumer Affairs, Winter 2019

This paper investigates how often Super Bowl ads feature women and people of color and whether they play prominent roles. Researchers also looked at how the ads portray women and racial and ethnic minorities and the likelihood they appear in ads that make a sexual appeal, feature celebrities or show certain settings. Researchers analyzed every national Super Bowl ad that ran between 2008 and 2017, excluding ads for movies and video games because, as the paper’s authors explain, “these ads tend to follow a standard ‘movie trailer’ format that follows a storyline rather than employing other ad appeals.” They analyzed 523 ads in total.

Key findings:

  • “There is little doubt that, as a collective, Super Bowl advertisers are making efforts to include minority groups in their ads, more than that had been the case in past decades,” the researchers write. However, most racial and ethnic minorities appear as minor characters or appear only in the background of an ad. White people appear as main characters in 86.2% of the ads studied. Black people were main characters in 10.2%, followed by Asians at 1.6% and Latinos at 1.4%. The remaining ads featured South Asians or Middle Easterners as principal characters.
  • Women also are underrepresented as main characters. “Over the 10-year period analyzed, males appeared as principal characters more than twice as often (79.1% of ads) as females (38.2% of ads). In terms of celebrity endorsers (either major or minor role), male celebrities appeared 123 times, 261% more often than the appearances of female celebrities. While NFL [National Football League] football may have been traditionally viewed as an event skewed male in terms of viewership, this is no longer true of the Super Bowl. As a result, viewership does not explain the difference in representation among groups, nor does the mix of product types advertised.”
  • “While some overrepresentation of Asian Americans in business settings is present, the differences are not at levels reported in past studies,” the authors write. “Yet, one finding is noteworthy: It seems that ads that feature minorities and Caucasians simultaneously are less likely to feature sexual appeals, and this gap has become even become stronger across the sample period.”

“‘Super Bowl Babies’: Do Counties with Super Bowl Winning Teams Experience Increases in Births Nine Months Later?”
Hayward, George M.; Rybińska; Anna. Socius: Sociological Research for a Dynamic World, 2017.

Is victory such an aphrodisiac (or, perhaps more accurately, an incitement to reproduce) that ‘Super Bowl Babies’ are a legitimate thing? Inspired by a popular National Football League ad aired during the 2016 Super Bowl that claimed winning cities see a rise in births nine months after the game, researchers conducted their own independent fact-check. “As adorable as these commercials are, they prompt further empirical investigation into their claims and the broader idea of sport-related fertility shocks,” they write. The authors examined birth data for counties that were home to a winning or losing Super Bowl team, as well as all other metropolitan counties within their respective states, corresponding to nine months after the Super Bowls were played. They looked at all years between 2003 and 2012 to test this claim.

Key findings:

  • “We find no clear pattern of birth increases in winning counties nine months after the Super Bowl.”
  • Similarly, often there were not statistically significant differences between birth rates in winning and losing counties and other metropolitan counties in the same state. “Of those differences that do reach statistical significance, we actually observe slightly more negative effects on births for either winning or losing the Super Bowl.”
  • “At the state level, the findings continue to be inconclusive.”

“Influence of the Super Bowl on the United States Birth Sex Ratio”
Grech, Victor; Zammit, Dorota. Early Human Development, 2019.

On the same theme as the previous study, this research begins by explaining that “events which lead to increased coital activity (such as celebrations)” are associated with a rise in the male-to-female birth ratio nine months later. The authors write that this is linked to the fact that “boys [are] conceived disproportionately often at the beginning and end of the ‘fertile interval’ (that period of time during which a woman is at a non-zero risk of conception). In contrast, girls are conceived more frequently in the middle of that interval.”  The authors add that the Super Bowl is one of the biggest celebrations in America: “There is a remarkable sense in which the Super Bowl functions as a major religious festival for American culture, for the event signals a convergence of sports, politics and myth.” Would more male babies be conceived after this American bacchanal? The authors analyzed data for 53.1 million births occurring between 2003 and 2015, breaking down the results by region and race, to test their hypothesis.

Key findings:

  • Elevated male-to-female birth ratios were found in all regions, for all races following the Super Bowl in 2006, 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2013.
  • The effects were strongest for white births in the Northeast, South, and West, and for black births in the Midwest and South.

“Sentiment and Stock Returns: Anticipating a Major Sporting Event”
Payne, Brian C.; Tresl, Jiri; Friesen, Geoffrey C. Journal of Sports Economics, 2018.

This study looks at stock returns before and after the Super Bowl for firms headquartered in the qualifying teams’ states. “The hypotheses in our article are motivated by three connected empirical findings,” the authors write. “That sporting events affect mood, that mood affects investor behavior, and that investor behavior can affect stock prices. We are particularly interested in the interplay between mood and the ‘anticipation’ of a future event.” The study looks at individual firms’ stock returns for Super Bowls occurring between 1967 and 2010.

Key findings:

  • The researchers found “significantly positive abnormal returns in local stocks prior to the Super Bowl.” The authors write, “These abnormal returns are larger than those that occur after the Super Bowl, and they occur for firms associated with both competing teams.” They link these returns to an “anticipatory ‘euphoria’ among investors.”
  • Favored teams that won had significant, positive postgame returns; favored teams that lost had negative postgame returns; and nonfavored teams had neutral or negative postgame returns regardless of whether they won or lost.
  • In the mood for some legal betting? “The data suggest a viable trading strategy around the Super Bowl involving a zero net investment portfolio consisting of a long position in all firms headquartered in competing teams’ states and a short position in the S&P 500. Such a strategy has yielded an average return of 3.01 percent across the 19 trading-day window and has been profitable in 33 of the 42 years.”

“Success Is Something to Sneeze At: Influenza Mortality in Cities That Participate in the Super Bowl”
Stoecker, Charles; Sanders, Nicholas J.; Barreca, Alan. American Journal of Health Economics, 2016.

The Super Bowl brings together spectators and hosts at gatherings across the country. These spectators play host as well — to a number of bacteria and viruses that transmit disease. This study looks at influenza mortality rates from 1974 to 2009 in counties with teams participating in the Super Bowl compared with the home counties of teams that didn’t make it to the big game that year.

Key findings:

  • There were no changes in influenza mortality for host cities of the Super Bowl. However, “a local team making it to the Super Bowl increases influenza mortality in the participating county.”
  • Counties that sent a team to the super bowl reported an additional seven reported influenza deaths per million among people aged 65 and older — an 18 percent increase compared to the average.  And in years where influenza strains are more virulent, or when Super Bowl season and peak influenza season overlap, the effects are more pronounced.
  • “If a major contributor to increased influenza spread is local gatherings for watching games, a simple policy solution is to increase awareness of influenza transmission vectors during times of sports-related gatherings. Reminding people to wash their hands and avoid sharing drinks or food at parties during the height of influenza season, especially if they have high amounts of contact with vulnerable populations, could have large social returns,” the authors conclude.

“Effects of Offline Ad Content on Online Brand Search: Insights from Super Bowl Advertising”
Chandrasekaran, Deepa; Srinivasan, Raji; Sihi, Debika. Journal of the Academy of Marketing Science, 2018.

Do Super Bowl ads translate to sales? This study examines the relationship between televised Super Bowl ads and one factor that predicts sales — online brand search. The researchers looked at the content of ads, focusing on their informational, emotional and attentional elements. Informational content is defined as “information relating to the features and/or benefits of the advertised product that informs viewers about the product and brand.” Emotional content is “non-fact content in the TV ad that evokes warm feelings and emotions with a view to persuade viewers about the product and brand.” Attentional content was measured by two attributes — prior media publicity for the TV ad and brand website prominence during the ad. The authors analyzed online brand search growth in the days following the game corresponding to 293 ads broadcasted during the Super Bowl between 2004 and 2012.

Key findings:

  • Ads with informational content were associated with increases in online brand search.
  • However, this effect decreased when informational content was accompanied by attentional content, such as prior media publicity and the prominent feature of brand websites during ads.
  • Emotional content of ads did not have an effect on online brand search.

“Super Returns to Super Bowl Ads?”
Stephens-Davidowitz, Seth; Varian, Hal; Smith, Michael D. Quantitative Marketing and Economics, 2017.

This study also examines the effects of Super Bowl ads on sales, using the case of movies advertised nationally during the Super Bowl on ticket sales on opening weekend in the home cities of teams in the game. “Home cities of the teams that are playing will have proportionally more viewers than viewers in other cities,” the authors explain. But advertisers don’t know which cities’ teams will be playing in the Super Bowl when they’re purchasing air time. “The increased sales of advertised products in cities of qualifying teams, compared to sales in home cities of near-qualifying teams, can thus be attributed to advertisements.” The scholars used data from Super Bowl ads aired from 2004 to 2014, comprising a sample of 70 movies advertised and released within six months following the game date.

Key findings:

Comparing ticket sales for movies advertised during the Super Bowl  between cities with qualifying teams and cities with teams that had lost in the playoffs, the authors suggest that the home team effect increased release-week ticket sales by about 21 percent.

This translates to an difference of about $8.4 million in ticket revenue, which represents about a 2.8-to-1 return on investment for the ad.

“Did the Super Bowl Kill the Internet?”
Morales, Nestor; Bergstrom, Mattias. IEEE Access, 2017.

This paper looks at whether the internet can handle a large spike in streaming traffic over a short period of time. The researchers looked at online traffic during the 2016 Super Bowl, when an average of 1.4 million people per minute watched the game via streaming video.

Key findings:

  • In short, the study finds a correlation between Super Bowl streaming traffic and difficulties connecting to networks.
  • “The results of our study suggest that the Internet is not prepared to accommodate the potential streaming traffic generated during major events,” the authors write. “If this trend continues, it will be necessary to find new ways to stream data to viewers, without affecting the existing infrastructure or protocols, which could be very expensive and — in some cases — impossible.”

“Do Public Events Affect Sex Trafficking Activity?”
Miller, Kyle; Kennedy, Emily; Dubrawski, Artur. ArXiv, 2016.

“For several years the pervasive belief that the Super Bowl is the single biggest day for human trafficking in the United States each year has been perpetuated in popular press despite a lack of evidentiary support,” the authors of this study write. To analyze these claims, the authors of this study, looked at the volume of online ads offering escorts for hire during 33 public events such as the Indy 500 and the Super Bowl. The ads — over 32 million in all — were collected between October 2011 and February 2016 for locations in the United States and between July 2013 and February 2016 for locations in Canada. The researchers homed in on the data further by identifying “which advertisements represent individuals recently arrived from elsewhere.” They consider the escorts in these ads “new-to-town.” “The event-driven sex trafficking narrative purports that events draw traffickers and their victims from disparate locations to the event vicinity,” the authors write. Thus, the authors suggest that ‘new-to-town’ ads are “an accessible and reasonable proxy measure for the actual levels of activity of sex-workers as well as trafficking victims.” This study has not yet been subject to full peer review, but it has been approved for posting which has been approved for posting by a moderator.

Key findings:

  • The cities that saw “the three most significant increases in ‘new-to-town’ ad volume were, in order of significance; Vancouver, British Columbia (May 23, 2015), Myrtle Beach, South Carolina (May 27, 2015) [Memorial Day weekend], and Charlotte, North Carolina (March 2, 2013).”
  • Events associated with “noticeable and statistically significant evidence of an influx of sex workers” include the Consumer Electronics Show, the Formula One Grand Prix, the Super Bowl and the Oracle OpenWorld Convention.
  • Memorial Day weekend at Myrtle Beach, however, saw a spike in ‘new-to-town’ ads larger than the increase associated with the Super Bowl by an order of magnitude. “Our analysis highlights that human trafficking affects our country across varied locations, communities, and events, and we cannot isolate its impact to only one event per year,” the authors write.

For research on the link between football and chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), check out our summary of a study that suggests less serious injuries not linked to concussions still can lead to traumatic brain injury and development of the early signs of CTE. Journalist’s Resource also has 12 key references for reporters covering concussions and a research roundup on high school football concussions and long-term health concerns.

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