The Super Bowl Isn’t Good for the Economy

Super BowlAs we prepare for the biggest game of the year in the most boring sport, I thought it would be a good time to consider some economic and political issues regarding the Super Bowl. Let’s start with the fact that the first Super Bowl was in 1966. Bart Starr led the Green Bay Packers to the first two championships. But it is wrong to think of it as that big a deal. What it really was, was a corporate merger.

You see, the NFL was always just what we think of as the National Football Conference (NFC). But in 1960, the American Football League (AFL) started up and it did quite well. It did what companies in a free market are supposed to do: compete! But the NFL didn’t like that. So the two companies saw that they could make more money if they stopped competing and cooperated. So the first Super Bowl was part of the process of the AFL integrating into the NFL as the American Football Conference (AFC). I suppose it does make the whole thing more exciting, but it also makes ticket prices higher and gives football teams undue influence on local governance.

But the Super Bowl is great for the economy, right? It stimulates spending? Not especially. Mike Cassidy at The Fiscal Times lampooned this idea, The Super Bowl’s Economic Impact: Not So Super:

Like a family driving their SUV to get double bacon cheeseburger combos, everything about the day is wholesale, venti, XXXL. According to the National Retail Federation (NRF), Americans are expected to spend $14.3 billion as they watch the Seahawks battle the Patriots in the big game’s 49th iteration. It’s the nation’s second biggest eating day, a huge weekend for big-screen sales and routinely the record-setter for all-time TV ratings.

Cassidy brought up three points to counter this. First is the fact that $14.3 billion is not that much when you consider that American consumers will spend $12 trillion this year. If we look at the daily level, the Super Bowl is roughly half our spending. But of course, the spending for today does not take place in a single day. Still, it is sort of impressive. But that’s not the whole story.

The $14.3 billion dollars is a very deceptive number. If people weren’t eating food while watching the Super Bowl, they would be eating food while doing something else. This isn’t to say that the Super Bowl doesn’t increase spending. But it is to say that that the extra spending is far less than this headline number. As Cassidy noted, “It’s a great day to be a pizza delivery guy or a Best Buy investor. But it’s a bad day to be in pretty much any business that doesn’t involve watching football from your couch.” And that isn’t the whole story either.

The final issue — and the nail in the coffin of the Super Bowl stimulus — is that people generally have fixed incomes. So any extra spending today will be offset with less spending in the weeks ahead. So all the Super Bowl does is move spending around and focus it on a particular day. If Americans tended to over-save, then an excuse to consume might be welcome. But Americans already have extremely low savings rates. We don’t need the encouragement of the Super Bowl.

Not that I care about that. I think an excuse for a party is always good. What I don’t like is the idea that we should thank our corporate overlords. They are doing everything they can to oppress us. The Super Bowl is a big money maker for them. That’s why they do it. They shouldn’t be treated as though they care about the social good. Because they don’t.


You are, of course, allowed to enjoy the Super Bowl. But baseball is a much better game:

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