The teams are set and the debate has begun over whether the Denver Broncos or the Seattle Seahawks will prevail in the Super Bowl. Oddsmakers see the game on February 2 as a close one, but we’re picking Seattle based on our unusual but amazingly accurate comparison: unemployment rates.

The “unemployment rate predictor” has accurately picked the Super Bowl winner in 20 out of 25 matchups beginning in 1989, when the San Francisco 49ers, hailing from a metro area with a low 3.6 percent jobless rate, defeated the Cincinnati Bengals, whose fan base was then experiencing a 5.1 percent unemployment rate, in Super Bowl XXIII.

The correlation, which we discovered a few years ago, is based on the unemployment rates in the competing cities during the calendar year preceding the big game. Through November, the 2013 unemployment rate for the Seattle metropolitan area was 5.9 percent, compared to 6.7 percent for the Denver metropolitan area. So based on this correlation, the Seahawks will claim the NFL championship.

Is there some logic behind the numbers?

Every sports fan knows the crowd can make a huge difference in the performance of players, especially in football. But how does the economic standing of the city affect football fans? One could argue that a fan base with higher employment rates is more likely to have expendable income to attend games, buy team merchandise, and cheer on their team at sports bars and restaurants.

Who knows — perhaps it’s an example of the butterfly effect, where small, subtle changes can have a significant impact in other areas. Other facts of note:

  • This is Seattle’s second trip to the Big Game. The Seahawks’ Super Bowl XL loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers represents an exception to the rule – it’s one of the few occasions when the unemployment predictor failed. Pittsburgh defeated Seattle despite having a 5.2 percent unemployment rate, compared to Seattle’s 5.0 percent rate.
  • Three of the four other times the predictor failed, the Super Bowl winner was the New York Giants – who earned upset wins over Buffalo in 1991 and New England in 2008 and 2012.

The subtle changes that lower unemployment rates can bring to a city can spread ripples as far as the football field. Never underestimate the power of having a job.

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