Want a sure-thing wager on the Super Bowl? Boy, do I have a proposition for you.
I am not talking about one of the wild prop bets on this year’s game, where you can wager from the coin toss and opening kickoff to the color of the winning coach’s bath of Gatorade and everything in between.
Nor am I suggesting that you seriously consider the “Super Bowl Indicator,” betting on the market’s direction for the year based on the game’s outcome.
Hidden in the plain sight of the Super Bowl for years now is an investment anomaly that might be worth betting on: any company advertising during a Super Bowl within seven years of its IPO is headed for trouble.
Before assuming recency bias based on last year’s Super Bowl — the current pinnacle of the phenomenon — recognize that this tendency has come up many times in the last quarter-century, which is as far back as I looked.
My research here is more cursory than comprehensive. I examined lists of Super Bowl advertisers for 25 years but wasn’t exhaustive in making sure every possible advertiser was there. Some stocks disappeared via mergers; I didn’t look backwards at companies that advertised in years ahead of their IPO.
I believe my indicator works best when ads are within five years of the IPO but it holds with nearly all companies buying ads within seven years. I did not determine whether the indicator is more a jinx — a sign of trouble for a few years — or a death knell.
I started searching in the late 1990s because that’s when the price of a 30-second ad went well over $1 million; I believe ad prices play a role. (Going back further could alter results; Apple’s famous one-time ad for the Macintosh was in 1984; the company went public in 1980. The stock lost about 25% the next year, but obviously has since achieved greatness.)
My hope is that some data wonk will run with this theory, doing a more conclusive study in the future. Empirically speaking, however, the idea holds; while I’m having fun here with investors’ eternal search for patterns, common sense backs me up.
That alone makes it different from the classic Super Bowl Indicator, which posits that a win by a team from the pre-merger NFL is bullish for the stock market, while victories for teams from the old AFL are a bad omen. (In determining rooting allegiances for this weekend, be aware that Philadelphia is an original NFL team while Kansas City is an original AFL team.)
Like many financial theorems, the Super Bowl Indicator “worked until it didn’t.” It has failed to predict the market’s direction in six of the last seven years, including 2022 when the good vibes from the NFC’s Los Angeles Rams’ win were powerless against a 20% decline. (Chiefs fans will note that their team won in 2020 when the market had a huge year despite dealing with the pandemic.)
Overall, the Super Bowl Indicator — using the Standard & Poor’s 500 as the U.S. market benchmark — has held true for 41 of 56 Super Bowls, which sounds great until you dig deeper.
New York Times sportswriter Leonard Koppett came up with the idea ahead of Super Bowl XII in 1978; to that point — from the first Super Bowl in 1967 — the indicator’s record was perfect. But Koppett did some data mining to make that happen; the Pittsburgh Steelers are an AFC team but were part of the NFL dating back to its 1933 start, thus the caveat for “an original NFL team” was needed or the indicator would have failed after Steelers’ championships in 1975 and ’76. The Steelers have won four more Super Bowls since then, all good years for the market.)
It’s now generally acknowledged that Super Bowl results predict the market no better than groundhogs predict the weather. (For eponymous reasons, I favor “Staten Island Chuck,” historically right about 80% of the time — double the success rate of the much more famous Punxsutawney Phil.)
So why might my Super Bowl Ad/IPO Indicator mean something? In a word: Ego. That is, the egos of CEOs behind nascent companies taking a flyer on Super Bowl ads.
The biggest game represents advertising’s biggest stage; Fox Sports, which is televising the game, has reported that in-game ads are sold out, with most going for between $6 million and $7 million for a 30-second spot.
‘You want to make a splash, you want your name out there. It’s the Super Bowl.’ — Jeff Bishop, CEO of RagingBull.com
“You want to make a splash, you want your name out there. It’s the Super Bowl,” says Jeff Bishop, chief executive at RagingBull.com, and a guest on my podcast “Money Life with Chuck Jaffe” on Friday. “It’s a look-at-me moment, done just for ego. And the executives get seats for the Super Bowl out of it, which they get to expense on shareholder money. But it’s probably not a good sign for the company.”
Consumer behemoths like Budweiser McDonald’s and Doritos can afford Super Bowl ads to get people talking again about their products and services. IPOs don’t have that kind of power.
Says Josef Schuster, CEO at IPOX Schuster, which tracks the new-issue market: “Fresh IPOs — especially those a year or two out — tend to overspend, on Super Bowl ads, stadium naming rights, whatever. They have lots of cash, so they hire a lot, spend a lot and sometimes it just doesn’t work out. … A little change to the economy or market and they’re a fallen angel fast.”
For example, LifeMinders.com — which proclaimed that its 2000 ad was “the worst commercial on the Super Bowl” — went public late in 1999, lost more than $100 million dollars but achieved a peak valuation of $2.3 billion shortly after the big game; it was sold for $68 million by the summer of 2001.
The most infamous example from 2000 is Pets.com, where stock performance was so outrageously bad that one year later, the dead sock-puppet dog was shown in an E*Trade Super Bowl spoof ad about dot-com companies that went bust largely due to overspending on commercials. (E*Trade , which had its own IPO in 1996, is an exception to the rule, although it struggled mightily to get through the bursting of the internet bubble.)
In 2022, the Super Bowl had a cryptocurrency ad boom. FTX — now bankrupt — ran its famous “Don’t miss out” campaign featuring Larry David; the FTT token plunged from $44.52 on game day to under two bucks today. Crypto.com’s Cronos (CRO) did not favor the brave, its value falling from about 50 cents at kickoff to roughly 8 cents today.
My rule focuses on stocks, however, so consider Coinbase Global which went IPO 10 months before the 2022 Super Bowl, peaking at $214 per share days before the game. It was roughly $35 by year’s end and stands near $57 now.
It wasn’t just about crypto. Every recent IPO buying ads in 2022 has suffered, from Carvana — $141.35 at kickoff, low of $3.55, now roughly $11 — to Squarespace — which advertised in 2021 before its IPO but came back in 2022 with the stock at $31.45 on game day, now roughly $23 after a low of $14.43. Also, DraftKings ( $23.33 at gametime, $9.77 low, now rebounded to about $16) to Rocket ( — $12.26 on Super Bowl Sunday, low of $5.87, currently in the $9 range).
Uber Technologies — which ran ads for Uber Eats — was the one recent IPO stock to avoid trouble after the 2022 Super Bowl. Its value has basically done a full round-trip, bottoming at $19.90 before getting back into the $35 territory. Still, the company advertised in the 2021 game, when it was priced north of $60, and is back again this year.
In 2021, the Super Bowl Ad/IPO indicator hit DoorDash ( $202.97 at gametime, about 58 bucks today), Fiverr International ($323.10 per share at kickoff, about $40 today), Indeed (owned by Japan’s Recruit Holdings off about 12.5%).
‘They’re pretending they’re in the big leagues by spending like a big leaguer ‘ — David Trainer, president of New Constructs
No indicator is perfect, but this one is promising. If any new company makes a splash at the Super Bowl, consider whether it actually may be drowning.
“These are ‘Hail Mary’ ads hoping to generate the revenue these companies need to make their businesses solvent,” says David Trainer, president of New Constructs, which includes Ad/IPO losers Carvana, DoorDash and Uber on its list of “zombie stocks” — companies within sniffing distance of bankruptcy due to heavy cash burn against limited cash reserves. “They’re pretending they’re in the big leagues by spending like a big leaguer; that’s not good for a young, immature company.
“Hail Marys connect much less often in business than in football,” he adds, “so you can root for it to happen, but you’d probably want to bet against it.”
More: How to bet on the Super Bowl legally: Everything you need to know about wagering on the big game
Also read: What the Eagles-Chiefs Super Bowl matchup can tell us about the stock market