Quick Takes: Babson Professors Share Their Super Bowl Storylines to Watch

A crowd in a stadium watches the Super Bowl

More than 110 million people are expected to watch Sunday’s Super Bowl, a game that will feature the Kansas City Chiefs, the San Francisco 49ers, and (most likely) the biggest pop star in the world cheering on her all-pro boyfriend. 

Babson professors took some time to share what they’ll be looking for during the big game. While they have had plenty to say about Taylor Swift in the past (here and here), this time they stuck to other Super Bowl storylines, including the sports world’s embrace of gambling, faulty predictions based on suspect data, and what to look for in all those much-hyped commercials. 

By the Numbers 

Rick Cleary is a math professor, so when thinking about the big game, he’s pondering data, or the lack thereof.  

“During the run-up to the Super Bowl, and during the game itself, I listen for the constant stream of people making predictions that rely on small sample sizes,” says Cleary, the Robert E. Weissman ’64, H’94, P’87 ’90 and Janet Weissman P’87 ’90 Professor of Business Analytics. 

Skimpy data, however, doesn’t stop the pundits from pontificating. “People often fail to recognize how little information there is in a statement such as, ‘Three of the last four Super Bowls played in Western states have been won by the AFC team,’ ” Cleary says. “These are great teachable moments for those of us interested in sports analytics because almost all betting suggestions from the media are based on similarly suspect data.” 

As for who will win the game, Cleary is noncommittal. “I’m hedging this year,” he says. “I’m rooting for San Francisco, but I think Kansas City is more likely to win. So, I will feel either happy or smart depending on the outcome.” 

What Happens in Vegas 

The significance of the game being in Las Vegas is not lost on Leslie Garbarino, who is thinking about the increased influence of betting on professional leagues and on sports in general. She’s an associate professor of practice in law.  

“Historically, the leagues were careful to maintain their distance from sports betting and from Las Vegas because of their concerns about the integrity of the game and a potential scandal, like the Black Sox scandal in Major League Baseball,” Garbarino says. 

That changed thanks to the Supreme Court. With its 2018 decision in Murphy v. NCAA, the Court struck down the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act, which had barred most state-authorized sports gambling. In the wake of that landmark ruling, many states have legalized some form of sports betting, and pro sports saw an opportunity.  

“The impact of sports betting and the removal of potential concerns about Las Vegas continue to shape our professional leagues.”
Leslie Garbarino, associate professor of practice in law

“While initially the leagues were against the legalization of sports betting at the state level,” Garbarino says, “they have all since come around because of the lucrative opportunities associated with this growing industry, including partnerships with sports betting businesses, putting teams in Las Vegas, and hosting Super Bowls and other major sporting events in Las Vegas.” 

This embrace of gambling and Las Vegas will certainly grow tighter. “The impact of sports betting and the removal of potential concerns about Las Vegas continue to shape our professional leagues, with the NBA eyeing Vegas for a potential expansion team and the Oakland A’s attempting to relocate their baseball club to the city,” Garbarino says. 

Speaking of gambling, the betting odds favor (slightly) the 49ers, and that’s where Garbarino’s heart lies. “I’m cheering for the 49ers, but I have a feeling it’s going to be the Chiefs,” she says. 

Don’t Forget the Ads 

Truth be told, the ads are many people’s favorite part of the Super Bowl, and Anjali Bal will be watching closely. She is an associate professor of marketing.  

“I always follow the themes within the ads, and it will be interesting to see what they will be this year,” Bal says. “In some of the leaked information, it will be a return to a lot of traditional Super Bowl ads like Budweiser and the Clydesdales mixed with some funny ads and some new stars.” 

Athletes from other sports also will be featured. “I am excited to see the (Lionel) Messi ads as he has revolutionized fùtbol in the USA,” Bal says. “I also think it will be interesting to see how women are represented in sports throughout the evening, including with some of the women’s leagues.”  

Bal will be rooting for the 49ers, though she knows victory is far from assured. “I don’t bet against teams I support,” she says, “but it will be a tough game for sure.”

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