Super Bowl, Super Football Math

By kate loop | Addition

Feb 05

Football MathHere are a few examples of how you can use the Super Bowl to show your students that math really does apply outside of a textbook.

We learn math, not just to pass a test, but to be equipped to use it to help us in tasks God’s given us here on earth (and to behold His glory and faithfulness in holding all things together—see God and Math?).

Believe it or not, the Super Bowl was replete with examples of math in action.

  • The Super Bowl Name – Notice the Roman numeral in Super Bowl LII. The Super Bowl name (along with the first quarter, second quarter, first down, second down, etc.) is an example of ordinal numbers.
  • The Team Jerseys – Perhaps the most obvious numbers on the field are those on the team jerseys. There’s an example of how we can use numbers like names—in this case, to identify different players.
  • The Field – Yep, there are numbers on the field itself (50-yard line, etc.), and distance is constantly measured throughout the game. How far of a field goal needs kicked? How much distance left to go to get to the next first down? In a more background way, laying out the football field itself required measurements. And how much grass is needed? Or paint? Again, measuring (think geometry) in action!
  • Confetti (and Other Costs and Profits) – So how much confetti was needed to fire off at the end of the game? And how much would it cost? How much did everything at the Super Bowl cost altogether? How much was brought in through ticket sales? Math can help us answer these behind-the-scenes questions.
  • The Ads – A lot of math goes on behind the scenes when it comes to ads. Below are a few examples.
    • How much money did NBC receive in advertising? If you knew the price of the ads sold, that could be calculated using addition. (In 2017, one source said it was around 385 million.)
    • When deciding if they should buy an ad, companies use math to help them compare different options. One useful measurement often used to compare options and develop an overall advertising plan is Gross Rating Points (GRPs), which is found by multiplying two different measurements together.[1] One can also look at how much the ad costs per thousand people it reaches, which is found by dividing the cost of the ad by the total people reached (in thousands).[2]
    • How much does an ad cost altogether? That would take adding up the cost of making the ad, the actual cost of buying the ad space, etc.
    • Is the ad a good ad to run? There’s no perfect way to tell this, but there are a lot of ways to try…and math can help. For example, one could test the ad before paying millions to air it in the Super Bowl. One testing method called the MSW* ARS shows ads (inside programs) to a sample group of people. Ads are given a score based on subtracting the percent that was for the target brand after the ad with the percent that was for the target brand before the ad (in other words, seeing the difference the ad made).[3]
    • Was the ad effective? Again, there’s no perfect way to measure this, but there are a lot of ways to try. Marketers use numerous formulas when evaluating sales and advertising to try to make sure that their advertising is really making a difference in sales.
  • The Graphics – Numerous graphics were introduced throughout the game. While we don’t often think of math and graphic design in the same sentence, graphic design often does use math. Not only does the computer program(s) used in designing use a lot of math behind the scenes, but graphic designers often use math to help position items, scale them, determine proportions, etc. Oh, and colors are specified using—you guessed it—numbers.
  • Statistics – What was the average cost of a 30-second Super Bowl ad? What is the football player’s percent complete? How many yards has the quarterback thrown so far (this would require adding)? And a host of other stats that use numbers (and addition to find those numbers)!
  • The Special Effects – Think of all the work that went in behind the scenes into coordinating various special effects. Math likely had a part in a lot of it: the angles of the lights, the levels of the various microphones (yes, math helps us measure audio levels too!), etc.

A lot goes in to an event like the Super Bowl—including a lot of math. The list above is by no means exhaustive, but hopefully it will get you (and your students) thinking.

Math’s much more than a textbook exercise—it’s a real-life tool we can use while praising the Creator.

Reminder: We’ve got a lot of math resources (and even curriculum) to help you teach math from this perspective.


[1] J. Craig Andrews and Terence A. Shimp, Advertising, Promotion, and Other Aspects of Integrated Marketing Communications, 10th ed. (Boston, MA: Cengage Learning, 2018), p. 348.[2] Ibid., p. 356.

[3] Ibid., p. 386-388.

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About the Author

After having her own view of math transformed, Katherine has been researching, writing, and speaking on a biblical worldview of math for more than a decade. Her books on math and a biblical worldview have been used by individuals, homeschool groups, and Christian schools and colleges, and she recently finished a junior high math curriculum. Receive her free Math from a Biblical Worldview e-mail course at mathisnotneutral.com

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