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Super Bowl blackout: Who is to blame?

On Sunday night, the Super Bowl was played in the New Orleans for the first time since the devastation of Hurricane Katrina in 2005. For the city's population, it was a declaration that they had not only survived, but rebuilt and recovered. That the game was played in the Superdome, a site inexorably linked to the horrendous aftermath of the disaster, only served to emphasize the completeness of that recovery.

The half-time show made it clear that Beyoncé is an incredibly talented performer. Granted, most people already knew that, but the timing was excellent, given a recent mini-scandal stemming from her performance of the national anthem at the inauguration. It seemed clear that Sony (SNE), which owns Beyoncé's record label, Columbia Records, was one of the night's biggest winners.

By the time the third quarter began, everyone (except maybe the 49ers) recognized that Super Bowl XLVII was a success and a celebration, even compared to other Super Bowls. So it was, in the words of Mayor Mitch Landrieu, “an unfortunate moment” when the lights went out, silencing the announcers and bringing the game to a full stop. During the following 34 minutes, fans and players were calm, if a bit bored and confused.

We can only imagine the frantic activity going on behind the scenes. If there was any panic, the millions of viewers at home never saw it, which is good, since many of those panicking would likely have been CBS (CBS) executives who stood to lose quite a bit if the game could not be resumed; 30-second advertising spots cost nearly $4 million. Fortunately for CBS, they were not responsible to their advertisers for the game's ratings, so they were fairly safe in all but a worst-case scenario. Still, they wasted no time in announcing that they were honoring all commercial commitments. CBS was down 1.3% on Monday, only slightly more than the S&P 500 which declined 1.18%.


That leaves only one question of potential financial import: whose fault was it?

It was definitely not the fault of the power company, at least that is their side of the story. Before the power was back on, Entergy (ETR) was on Twitter, confidently asserting that “At all times, our distribution & transmission feeders were serving Superdome. We continue working w/ Superdome to address any issues…” That statement seems believable, if only because it is easily verifiable, but their quick alibi does underscore the fact that they knew right away they were the prime suspect. ETR was down 1.14% in trading on Monday.

There was a great deal of speculation on Monday that the problem had something to do with Beyoncé's half-time show. If true, that would mean that Sony wasn't necessarily as big a winner as they had thought. Fortunately, Sony seems to have been exonerated by Doug Thornton of SMG Management Company which manages the Superdome. According to Thornton, the half-time show was powered by an entirely separate grid and could not have caused the black-out. So, Sony turns out to be a winner after all. SNE was up 2.31% on Monday.

The most likely suspect then, is the Superdome's management company, SMG (formerly Spectacor Management Group), which is owned by American Capital (ACAS). Their explanation for what happened (“equipment monitoring the electrical load into the stadium sensed an 'abnormality' and partially cut power to isolate the problem)” is awfully technical compared to blaming Beyoncé and awfully dry compared to speculation of a terrorist attack, perhaps involving Bane, the villain of “The Dark Knight Rises.”

Whatever the truth is ultimately found to be, however, it is certainly worth pointing out that SMG is not spending the day blaming others. Perhaps that, in a sense, is enough to make SMG the real winner in all of this. Although, in another sense, ACAS was down 1.43% on Monday.


Julian Close has been a professional business writer since the first day of the twenty-first century, having written for PRA International and the United Nations Department of Peacekeeping. He graduated from Davidson College in 1993 and received a Masters of Teaching degree from Mary Baldwin College in 2011. He became a stockbroker in 1993, but now works for Fresh Brewed Media and uses his powers only for good.

Julian Close

Julian Close became a stockbroker in 1995. In his 20 years of market experience, he has seen all market conditions and written about every aspect of investing. Julian has also written extensively on corporate best practices and even written reports for the United Nations. He graduated from Davidson College in 1993 and received a Master of Arts in Teaching from Mary Baldwin College in 2011. You can see closing trades for all Julian's long and short positions and track his long term performance via twitter: @JulianClose_MIC.