Proponents of campaign finance reform have noted with alarm that the 2012 presidential election cycle was the costliest ever. Estimates by the Federal Election Commission place total expenditures by candidates, parties and political action committees at $7 billion, a truly phenomenal sum. A little more, it turns out, than half as much as we spent on this year's Super Bowl.
The annual contest to crown the NFL champion is truly a spectacle of American commerce. According to a survey by the National Retail Federation, fans, gamblers and advertisers will have spent over $12 billion on the big game by the time the gladiators return home. That translates into $82 per U.S. consumer, on average. From food to suds to big-screen televisions, the economic impact of the Super Bowl is, well, super.
Advertisers are willing to pay dearly for access to the largest captive audience of the year. TV ad rates have recovered sharply from their slump during the financial crisis, as marketers plunked down $3.8 million per 30 second spot to get their message in front of 210 million eyeballs glued to the tube. Meanwhile, even the bookies in Vegas were cashing in, expected to take $95 million in legal bets on the contest. Illegal bets may approach the same total.
The economic benefit to the host city of New Orleans was both significant and welcome. Forbes magazine estimates the financial impact of the game at $135 million for the area from the influx of rabid fans toting fat wallets. Cash registers at shopping malls, hotels, restaurants and gas stations rang up the sweet sound of tax revenue for the Big Easy.
But by far the biggest category of Super Spending on Super Sunday was for chow. Take-out restaurants sold 4 million pizzas on Sunday, not counting the frozen variety. Americans scarfed down 11 million pounds of potato chips on game day (consuming 31 million pounds of spuds), and turned 79 million pounds of avocados into guacamole. According to the National Chicken Council (yes there is a nation council for everything), 600 million chickens paid the ultimate price to satiate fans' appetite for hot wings while the competitors fought it out on the field.
And there is a good reason that many of the best commercials during the game are Budweiser ads. Fans quaffed an estimated 50 million cases of beer totaling over $10 billion over the weekend of the game, according to industry projections.
In the end, Super Bowl Sunday is not just the culmination of a season of intense competition, but also a marvel of American consumerism that has few rivals. In the end, compared to $12 billion to crown the Baltimore Ravens champions of professional football, perhaps a mere $7 billion isn't so outrageous a tab for electing the leader of the free world.
Christopher A. Hopkins CFA, is a vice president at Barnett & Co.