Will your portfolio soar with the Seahawks, or get pummeled by the Patriots?
That’s what adherents of the so-called Super Bowl Theory would likely predict. The Super Bowl Theory holds that when a team from the old National Football League wins the Super Bowl, the S&P 500 will rise, whereas when a team from the old American Football League prevails, stock prices will fall.
It’s a “theory” that has been found to be correct nearly 80% of the time; for 38 of the 48 Super Bowls, in fact.
It certainly “worked” in 2014, when these same Seattle Seahawks bumped the Broncos, a legacy AFL team, and in 2013, when a dramatic fourth quarter comeback rescued a victory by the Baltimore Ravens who, though representing the AFC, are technically a legacy NFL team via their Cleveland Browns roots. Admittedly, that the markets fared well in 2013 was hardly a true test of the Super Bowl Theory since, as it turned out, both teams in Super Bowl XLVII — the Ravens and the San Francisco 49ers — were NFL legacy.
However, consider that in 2012 a team from the old NFL (the NY Giants) took on — and took down — one from the old AFL (the New England Patriots, who once were the AFL’s Boston Patriots). And, in fact, 2012 was a pretty good year for stocks.
On the other hand, the year before that, the Pittsburgh Steelers (representing the American Football Conference) took on the National Football Conference’s Green Bay Packers — two teams that 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.
There was the string of Super Bowls where the contests were all between legacy NFL teams: 2010 (when the New Orleans Saints bested the Indianapolis Colts, who had roots back to the NFL legacy Baltimore Colts)), 2009 (the Pittsburgh Steelers took on the Arizona Cardinals, who had once been the NFL’s St. Louis Cardinals), 2007 (where the Indianapolis Colts beat the Chicago Bears 29-17), and 2006, when the Steelers besting the Seattle Seahawks. The markets were higher in each of those years.
As for 2008? Well, that was the year that the NFC’s New York Giants upended the legacy AFL’s Patriots’ hopes for a perfect season, but it didn’t do any favors for the stock market. In fact, that was the last time that the Super Bowl Theory didn't “work.”
Times were better for Patriots fans in 2005 when they bested the NFC’s Philadelphia Eagles 24-21, and, 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 (AFL legacy) 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 and the Baltimore Ravens, did nothing to dispel the bear markets of 2000 and 2001, respectively.
In fact, the Super Bowl Theory “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).
Indeed, the Buccaneers’ move to the NFC was part of a swap with the Seattle Seahawks, who did, in fact, enter the NFL as an NFC team in 1976 but shuttled quickly over to the AFC (where they remained through 2001) before returning to the NFC.1 And, not having entered the league until 1976, wherever they began, can the Seahawks truly be considered a “legacy” NFL squad? Bear in mind as well, that in 2006, when the Seahawks made their first Super Bowl appearance — and lost — the S&P 500 gained nearly 16%.
As for Sunday’s contest, after the Seattle Seahawks opened as 2-point favorites, the Patriots now appear to be 1-point favorites — and this is the first time since 1975 that we actually have two Number 1 seeds facing off in the Super Bowl. It looks like it will 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 do!
- Nevin E. Adams, JD
1. In fact, Seattle is the only team to have played in both the AFC and NFC Championship Games, having relocated from the AFC to the NFC during league realignment prior to the 2002 season. The Seahawks are the only NFL team to switch conferences twice in the post-merger era. The franchise began play in 1976 in the NFC West division but switched conferences with the Buccaneers after one season and joined the AFC West.