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Is It Time to Sack the ‘Super Bowl Indicator’?

By Robert R. Johnson

Around this time every year, the Super Bowl Indicator bounces back. Articles with titles like “Would Panthers’ Win Boost the Bull?” and “Saints’ Super Bowl Win Predicts Bull Stock Market” appear around the time of the annual championship game. This year, the AFC champion Denver Broncos take on the NFC champion Seattle Seahawks on Feb. 2 at MetLife Stadium in New Jersey.

The Super Bowl Indicator was originally proposed tongue-in-cheek by New York Times sportswriter Leonard Koppett in 1978. Legend has it that the theory was detailed in a Times article, but no one has been able to locate it. What is clear is that the phenomenon was the subject of a 1978 column by Koppett in the Sporting Newsentitled “Carrying Statistics to Extremes.”

What is the Super Bowl Indicator? Simply put, Koppett observed that in 10 out of 11 years the direction of the stock market had been “predicted” by the outcome of the Super Bowl. Specifically, if a premerger National Football League team won the Super Bowl the market rose, and if an old AFL team won the Super Bowl, the market fell.

The “theory” took on a life of its own. In fact, the highly respected Financial Analysts Journal published an article in 1989 entitled “Did Joe Montana Save the Stock Market?” The title referred to the fact that in the 1989 Super Bowl, legendary quarterback Joe Montana drove the San Francisco 49ers 92 yards in the final three minutes of the game to score a touchdown and beat the Cincinnati Bengals 20-16. According to the Super Bowl Indicator, if an old NFL team (San Francisco) won the game, then the stock market would advance.

The market did indeed advance in 1989, with the Dow rising 27%.

Not only has the Super Bowl Indicator consistently predicted the direction of the market, but returns when the old NFL wins and when the AFL wins are dramatically different. The Dow has averaged a healthy 11.6% return in years in which the old NFL wins the Super Bowl and has declined by an average of 0.74% in years in which the old AFL prevailed.  (The Pittsburgh Steelers are an old NFL team that won six Super Bowls after migrating to the AFL; the market has gone up after all six of the Steelers’ Super Bowl wins. Maybe investors should always root for the Steelers.)

Here are the year-by-year results of the Super Bowl Indicator and the returns to the two most widely reported stock indices in the U.S. – the Dow Jones Industrial Average and the S&P 500.


Super Bowl
Year Super Bowl Winner NFL/AFL Dow S&P500
1 1967 Green Bay NFL 15.20% 23.98%
2 1968 Green Bay NFL 4.30% 11.06%
3 1969 NY Jets AFL -15.20% -8.50%
4 1970 Kansas City AFL 4.80% 4.01%
5 1971 Baltimore NFL 6.10% 14.31%
6 1972 Dallas NFL 14.60% 18.98%
7 1973 Miami AFL -16.60% -14.66%
8 1974 Miami AFL -27.60% -26.47%
9 1975 Pittsburgh NFL 38.30% 37.20%
10 1976 Pittsburgh NFL 17.90% 23.84%
11 1977 Oakland AFL -17.30% -7.18%
12 1978 Dallas NFL -3.10% 6.56%
13 1979 Pittsburgh NFL 4.20% 18.44%
14 1980 Pittsburgh NFL 14.90% 32.42%
15 1981 Oakland NFL -9.20% -4.91%
16 1982 San Francisco NFL 19.60% 21.41%
17 1983 Washington NFL 20.30% 22.51%
18 1984 LA Raiders AFL -3.70% 6.27%
19 1985 San Francisco NFL 27.70% 32.16%
20 1986 Chicago NFL 22.60% 18.47%
21 1987 NY Giants NFL 2.30% 5.25%
22 1988 Washington NFL 11.80% 16.51%
23 1989 San Francisco NFL 27.00% 31.69%
24 1990 San Francisco NFL -4.30% -3.11%
25 1991 NY Giants NFL 20.30% 30.47%
26 1992 Washington NFL 4.20% 7.62%
27 1993 Dallas NFL 13.70% 10.08%
28 1994 Dallas NFL 2.10% 1.32%
29 1995 San Francisco NFL 33.50% 37.58%
30 1996 Dallas NFL 26% 22.96%
31 1997 Green Bay NFL 22.60% 33.36%
32 1998 Denver AFL 16.10% 28.58%
33 1999 Denver AFL 25.20% 21.04%
34 2000 St. Louis NFL -6.20% -35.03%
35 2001 Baltimore AFL -7.10% -9.11%
36 2002 New England AFL -16.80% -22.10%
37 2003 Tampa Bay NFL 25.30% 26.68%
38 2004 New England AFL 3.10% 10.88%
39 2005 New England AFL -0.60% 4.91%
40 2006 Pittsburgh NFL 16.30% 15.79%
41 2007 Indianapolis NFL 6.40% 5.49%
42 2008 NY Giants NFL -33.80% -37.00%
43 2009 Pittsburgh AFL 18.80% 26.46%
44 2010 NO Saints NFL 11.00% 15.05%
45 2011 Green Bay NFL 5.50% 2.11%
46 2012 NY Giants NFL 7.26% 16.00%
47 2013 Baltimore AFL 26.50% 29.60%


The Super Bowl Indicator produced an enviable record as it correctly predicted the direction of both the Dow and the S&P 500 in 35 out of 47 years – a success rate of over 74%. Most market pundits would kill to be correct that often.  How can we explain this?  In reality, it is quite simple.  The stock market generally goes up (the Dow was up in 34 of 47 years) and an old NFL team generally wins the Super Bowl (33 of 47 years). In fact, both of these events occurred in the same year 28 times.

Looking at history since 1966, there is a 70.2% likelihood that an NFL team wins the Super Bowl and there is a 72.3% chance that the Dow advances in a given year. Given these probabilities, by simple chance the Super Bowl Indicator should be correct 59.1% of the time.

But, from a statistical standpoint, the fact that the indicator is correct approximately 74% of the time is very surprising.  The probability of having the indicator correct 35 or more times out of 47 is only 2.09% ─ a level that statisticians would say is significant. It seems, therefore, that the Super Bowl Indicator has promise.

However, the Super Bowl Indicator is an example of how some individuals can confuse the concepts of correlation and causality. If you look long and hard enough – an exercise known as data mining – you can always find two data series that are highly correlated but have no causal relationship between them. Koppett made this point in his original Sporting News article when he showed a relationship between major league baseball batting averages and the stock market – when major league batting averages go down the stock market goes up and vice versa. This relationship was consistent in 12 of the 15 years Koppett examined. The same sort of spurious relationship has been documented between sunspots and economic activity.

Note that for purposes of this analysis, the Baltimore Ravens (Super Bowl winners in 2001) are considered an AFC team. One could argue that they are an old NFL team as they became the Baltimore Ravens when they were moved from Cleveland, where they were the Browns. But since the NFC added an expansion team in Cleveland and called them the Cleveland Browns, I considered that double-counting. For the purposes of this silly analysis, the Ravens are an AFC team.

Besides, the people in Cleveland have disowned them and I don’t want to incur the wrath of Clevelanders.  It really is academic which league you consider them coming from, as they have won two Super Bowls and the market went up in one year and down in the other following their wins.

How Koppett would classify Seattle is anyone’s guess. They are not an old NFL team nor an old AFL team. To add to the confusion, they came into the league as an NFC team in 1976, but were immediately moved to the AFC where they toiled from 1977 to 2001 before returning to the NFC – potentially enabling Super Bowl Indicator advocates to declare “victory” no matter what happens.

All that aside, why does the Super Bowl indicator receive so much attention while other spurious correlations are ignored? The Super Bowl indicator combines two of the biggest obsessions of Americans – the biggest single sporting event in the U.S. and investing. Sunspots don’t generate the kind of attention and passion that football does.

Of course, if enough people believe that Joe Montana saved the stock market, they can make it a reality by being bullish in the market and bidding prices up when an NFC team wins. In a 2011 Wall Street Journal blogpost, Jason Zweig refers to a study that University of Arizona professor Ed Dyl performed regarding the performance of the market for the month following the Super Bowl. Dyl found that markets rose 1.1% on average after an old NFL win and fell -0.1% after an old AFL win. While not conclusive evidence, in the short run there may be a sort of self-fulfilling prophecy at work.

So should fans of the AFC feel guilty about rooting for their team to win the championship because of what it bodes for the stock market? The answer should be: “No way!” When Denver won its back-to-back Super Bowls in 1998 and 1999, the Dow and S&P had healthy advances. Maybe a Broncos win isn’t bad for the market.


Robert R. Johnson, Ph.D., CFA, CAIA, is a finance professor at the Heider College of Business at Creighton University and a director of RS Investment Management.  He is a co-author of three books – Strategic Value Investing (McGraw-Hill), Investment Banking for Dummies (Wiley) and The Tools & Techniques of Investment Planning (National Underwriter Company).  He is the editor of the Quarterly Journal of Finance and Accounting and has published extensively in financial journals, including the Journal of Finance, Journal of Financial Economics, Financial Analysts Journal, Journal of Portfolio Management and Journal of Wealth Management, among others.

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