Super Bowl Indicator: Should Bulls Root for the 49ers or Chiefs?

The Super Bowl Indicator suggests investors should have a palpable interest in Sunday's game between the 49ers and Chiefs.

Super Bowl LVIII logo projected on the side of Caesers Palace in Las Vegas
(Image credit: PATRICK T. FALLON/AFP via Getty Images)

If you think investors shouldn't have a rooting interest in Sunday's big game, the Super Bowl Indicator might just change your mind.

Experts, amateurs and idiot savants alike have forever gone to great lengths to divine the direction of share prices. Just as the ancients studied the entrails of sheep, today's would-be market prognosticators have looked for auguries in shades of lipstick, the production of cardboard boxes, Big Mac prices, the lengths of women's skirts and the cover of the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue.

All of those subjects and more have been measured, analyzed and tracked to determine the market's future direction. And in a scant couple of days, we shall receive yet another mystical portent for the future path of the S&P 500: 

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The great and mighty Super Bowl Indicator.

First coined in 1978 by New York Times sportswriter Leonard Koppett, the Super Bowl Indicator goes like this: If an original National Football League (now the National Football Conference or NFC) team wins the Super Bowl, stocks should rise for the rest of the year. But if the Super Bowl winner is an original American Football League (now the American Football Conference or AFC) team, stocks should fall.

Briefly put, that means as long as you have more of a rooting interest in your 401(k) or IRA than you do either of Sunday's competitors, you should be pulling for the NFC's San Francisco 49ers over the AFC's Kansas City Chiefs.

However, going by more recent results, investors might want to cheer for a little less sourdough and a lot more barbeque.

Super Bowl Indicator: By the numbers

Before we dive any deeper, we'll quickly remind anyone who needs reminding that the Super Bowl has absolutely no effect on the stock market. None whatsoever.

But then, what is life without a little nonsense?

Again, the Super Bowl Indicator originally postulated that stocks will rise for the full year if an NFC team wins the "big game," and fall if the AFC wins. As of 1978, when Koppett introduced the supposed market signal, it had a completely accurate track record. (With a big fat asterisk in that the Pittsburgh Steelers, an AFC team, were counted as an NFC team because the franchise's origins were in the original NFL.)

Since then, the Super Bowl Indicator hasn't been quite as laser-precise, but generally it has maintained its NFC-good, AFC-bad trend.

Over the past 57 Super Bowls, the indicator has been correct 41 times, or 72% of the time. Most recently, the Super Bowl Indicator prevailed in 2021 when the Tampa Bay Buccaneers beat the Kansas City Chiefs and the S&P 500 was up 14.5% over the next year.

However, the S&P 500 produced a 24.2% annual gain in 2023, even though the AFC's Kansas City Chiefs took home the Vince Lombardi Trophy instead of the Philadelphia Eagles.

Because recent history favors the American Football Conference.

Stocks have actually gained over the full year 11 of the past 12 times when a team from the AFC won the championship, says Ryan Detrick – chief market strategist at Carson Group and lifelong Bengals fan. "In fact, the only time stocks were lower was in 2015, when the full year ended down -0.7%, so virtually flat," Detrick adds.  

Indeed, the average S&P 500 return across those 12 wins, dating back to 2004, is 15%.

Curiously, the lone negative year came when Tom Brady won his fourth Super Bowl with the Patriots … two weeks after the "Deflategate" scandal. Feel free to blame that blip on some underinflated footballs, too.

Other Super Bowl and stock market stats

Although it's no more applicable than the Super Bowl Indicator, data from S&P Global Market Intelligence offers a broader list of stock-market performance breakdowns based on Super Bowl winners is every bit as entertaining.

For instance, the higher the points scored in a game, the better for the stock market. "When the teams in the Super Bowl combine to score at least 46 points, the stock market returns 16.3% on average," says S&P Global. "If the final combined score is under 46, the average market return is just 7.2%." 

But bulls might want to be worried about the location of this year's big game. Not only does the stock market do worse when the Super Bowl is held west of the Mississippi River (8.6% vs 14.3% when it occurs on the east side), but it also tends to underperform when it's played in a dome. 

According to S&P Global Market Intelligence, in the 19 times the game was played in a dome or in a stadium where the retractable roof was closed, the S&P 500 was up 8.3%, on average, over the next year. This compares to a 13.8% annual average return when the Super Bowl was held in an open-air stadium or the retractable roof was open.

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Kyle Woodley

Kyle Woodley is the Editor-in-Chief of WealthUp, a site dedicated to improving the personal finances and financial literacy of people of all ages. He also writes the weekly The Weekend Tea newsletter, which covers both news and analysis about spending, saving, investing, the economy and more.


Kyle was previously the Senior Investing Editor for Kiplinger.com, and the Managing Editor for InvestorPlace.com before that. His work has appeared in several outlets, including Yahoo! Finance, MSN Money, Barchart, The Globe & Mail and the Nasdaq. He also has appeared as a guest on Fox Business Network and Money Radio, among other shows and podcasts, and he has been quoted in several outlets, including MarketWatch, Vice and Univision. He is a proud graduate of The Ohio State University, where he earned a BA in journalism. 


You can check out his thoughts on the markets (and more) at @KyleWoodley.

With contributions from