There's a lot of hype about the Super Bowl and almost as many myths and superstitions. In the accompanying video, Freakonomics co-author Stephen Dubner tackles three of the most common misconceptions about the Super Bowl, including one that could determine the outcome of the game.
Myth #1) If the Giants Win, the Market Will Cheer: According to the so-called Super Bowl indicator, a win by any team from the original NFL (like the Giants) is good for the stock market while a win by a team from the AFL (like the New England Patriots) is bad. To date, 36 out of 45 Super Bowl championships have given support for this indicator or an 80% success fate, according to Investopedia.
"I love to hear people chatter about it but I ignore that stuff," Dubner says. " We know that predicting the future based on an independent variable that has nothing to do with anything is a bad idea. I might as well take hen's teeth and a cast them in the dirt."
Statistically speaking, the "Super Bowl Indicator" just doesn't add up, but it makes for good party conversation if the game gets boring.
Myth # 2) Super Bowl Ads Are Too Expensive: This year, NBC is charging a record $3.5 million for a 30-second Super Bowl ad, generating about $250 million for the network.
Sounds like an obscenely ridiculous amount of money, right? Well, according to Dubner, NBC "might be leaving tens or even hundreds of millions [of dollars] on the table."
How's that? As Dubner notes, the "market" for Super Bowl ads is not really a market at all. "It's a weird set-price auction with one seller and the price set the previous year by a competitor," he says, noting the Super Bowl rotates annually between NBC, CBS and Fox who are rivals the other 364 days of the year but "collaborators" in this particular piece of price-fixing.
Rather than a set price for ads, Dubner thinks the networks would do better auctioning off each ad slot. Plus, "they can take the auction of ad sales and make it its own half-hour show and sell ads against that," he says. "I would watch that."
Who wouldn't? Given all the hype around Super Bowl ads, it's a pretty good bet that show would be a ratings bonanza. (See: The Greatest Super Bowl Ad Preview...Ever!)
Myth # 3) In Sports, Home Field Matters: Home field does matter in sports but not for the reasons you probably think, according to Dubner, making OK, this less a myth buster than a myth explainer -- giving new meaning to the term "demystify."
Citing the book Scorecasting, which is sort of like Freakonomics for sports, Dubner notes the home team wins about 55% of football games, suggesting there is a real home field advantage.
But the advantage doesn't come from players sleeping in their own beds, eating home cooking or the impact of travel on the visiting team, he says. Rather, the bulk of home field advantage comes down to one factor: Referees.
Although professional referees and umpires "work very hard to be unbiased, the home crowd influences them," Dubner says. "Refs are human and they want...to make people happy."
While the Super Bowl is played on a "neutral" site, this year it happens to be in Indianapolis, where Peyton Manning -- big brother of Giant's QB Eli Manning - is a legend. In addition, the Colts and Patriots have a long and nasty rivalry, which could further tip the fans in the Giants' favor, Dubner notes.
"The players will determine the outcome," he says. "But it's likely we might see a little home field advantage toward the Giants, which might influence one whistle that's blown or, more interestingly, one that's not blow."
And in a close game between two evenly matched teams, one call (or non-call) could make all the difference.
Enjoy the game!