There could be a lot more riding on Sunday’s Super Bowl than you think.
If the results of the Super Bowl exert any influence on the markets – as proponents of the so-called Super Bowl Theory claim – then 2012 could prove to be truly tumultuous.
For the "uninitiated," the theory (invented/popularized by the late New York Times sportswriter Leonard Koppett) says that a win by a team from the old National Football League is a precursor to rising stock values for the year (at least as measured by the S&P 500), but if a team from the old American Football League (AFL) prevails, stocks will fall in the coming year.
This year we have a team from the old NFL (the NY Giants) taking on one from the old AFL (the New England Patriots, who once were the AFL’s Boston Patriots). So, if the Giants prevail, 2012 should be a good year for stocks – and if things go the Patriots’ way, well…
On the Other Hand…
Of course, as even loyal proponents will admit, this theory used to work a lot better than it has in recent years. The most obvious (and recent) proof of that was Super Bowl XLII, where these same two teams met – and the underdog New York Giants pulled off a remarkable victory – but the S&P 500 still shed…well, we don’t really need to relive that here (particularly for Patriots fans).
Last year’s contest brought together two classic NFL teams; the Pittsburgh Steelers (representing the American Football Conference) and the National Football Conference’s Green Bay Packers. Both those teams had some of the oldest, deepest, and yes, most “storied” NFL roots, with the Steelers formed in 1933 (as the Pittsburgh Pirates), and the Packers, founded in 1919. So, according to the Super Bowl Theory, 2011 should have been a good year for stocks (because, regardless of who won, an NFL team would prevail). But, as you may recall, while the Dow gained ground for the year, the S&P 500 was – well, flat.
On the other hand, 2010 turned out pretty well – a year when the New Orleans Saints bested the Indianapolis Colts, though it was, after all, also a Super Bowl featuring two teams with NFL roots. And it was also the case in 2009 when both Super Bowl teams - the Arizona Cardinals and the Pittsburgh Steelers – had NFL roots (the Arizona Cardinals by way of one time being the St. Louis Cardinals), AND in 2007 when the S&P 500 rose 3.53% as the Indianapolis Colts beat the Chicago Bears 29-17. That also turned out to be the case in 2006 when the Pittsburgh Steelers (yes, again) defeated the Seattle Seahawks in another battle of two legacy NFL clubs. That turned out to be a good year for equities, with the S&P 500 closing up more than 13%.
Except When It Doesn’t…
Of course, as even loyal proponents will admit, this theory used to work a lot better than it has in recent years. The most obvious (and recent) proof of that was the aforementioned Super Bowl XLII where the New York Giants pulled off a remarkable victory – but the S&P 500 still shed…well, we don’t really need to relive that again (particularly for Patriots fans).
Times were better for Patriots fans in 2005 when they bested the NFC’s Philadelphia Eagles 24-21. According to the Super Bowl Theory, the markets should have been down for the year. However, in 2005 the S&P 500 climbed 2.55%.
Of course, the 2002 win by those same New England Patriots accurately foretold the continuation of the bear market into a third year (at the time, the first accurate result in five years). But the Patriots 2004 Super Bowl win against the Carolina Panthers failed to anticipate a fall rally that helped push the S&P 500 to a near 9% gain that year, sacking the indicator for another loss.
Consider also that, despite victories by the old AFL Denver Broncos in 1998 and 1999, the S&P 500 continued its winning ways, while victories by the NFL legacy St. Louis (by way of Los Angeles) Rams (with the just-retired Arizona quarterback Kurt Warner calling plays) and the Baltimore (by way of NFL legacy Cleveland Browns) Ravens did nothing to dispel the bear markets of 2000 and 2001.
All in all, the Super Bowl Theory has been on the money more often than not – much more often than not, in fact - but in true sports fashion, has had some winning streaks and some rough patches. Consider that it “worked” 28 times between 1967 and 1997 – then went 0-4 between 1998 and 2001 – only to get back on track from 2002 on (purists still dispute how to interpret Tampa Bay’s victory in 2003, since the Buccaneers spent their first NFL season in the AFC before moving to the NFC).
As for Sunday – the oddsmakers are giving the nod to the Patriots – though not by much.
It looks like it could be a good game – and that, whether you are a proponent of the Super Bowl Theory or not – would be one in which whoever wins, we all will!
Nevin E. Adams, JD
Other exceptions included: 1970, when AFC Kansas City won, and the S&P index gained 0.1%; 1984, when AFC Los Angeles Raiders won, and the S&P rose 1.4%; 1990, when NFC San Francisco prevailed, and the S&P lost 6.56%; and 1994, when NFC Dallas triumphed, but the S&P index fell 1.53%.