Flu deaths and spousal abuse spike during big sports events like the Super Bowl

Not everyone loves a big game.
Not everyone loves a big game.
Image: AP Photo/Jeff Chiu
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Sports are wonderful, and can bring people together in unexpected ways. But when so many people get together in one place, bad things also multiply.

Flu deaths

Ahead of parties for today’s Super Bowl, fans from Boston and Seattle may want to be wary of the chip dip. A study by Tulane University, using data for the big game going back to 1974, showed that having a team in the championship game correlated with an 18% increase in flu deaths among the elderly in the cities involved.

Why is that? ”You’re going to the bar or to peoples’ homes for watch parties and you’re double dipping the chip—or somebody else is—and you’re spreading the flu,” said Charles Stoecker, an assistant professor of global health systems and development at Tulane. “Football fans might contract a mild case of influenza, but then pass it on to other, potentially more susceptible people.”

Spousal abuse

For some partners of sports fans, big games are days to dread. Take Scotland’s biggest soccer game, the Glasgow derby between Celtic and Rangers, known as the “Old Firm”, which will also take place today for the first time in three years. The game is famous for its violence, mostly off the pitch, due to a potent mix of sectarianism and alcohol.

Studies by the local police have found that domestic abuse increases sharply on Old Firm matchdays—up to double the normal rate on a Sunday such as today. The trend is such that the police have been visiting the homes of known abusive spouses this week to deliver preemptive warnings.

Researchers put the rise in spousal abuse down to the “holy trinity” of “sports, alcohol, and hegemonic masculinity,” according to St. Andrews University researchers who studied the issue. Much of the work in this area is from the US, which has shown an increase in hospital admissions by female victims when a football team has won.

A separate study of NFL games found that upset losses—defeats when the home team was predicted to win by 4 or more points—led to a 10% increase in the rate of “at-home violence by men against their wives and girlfriends.”


Big sporting events that attract people from all over the world are also known for attracting prostitutes to serve them, with non-profits labelling Super Bowl weekend as the largest in the annual calendar for the world’s oldest profession. The New York Police Department made 30% more prostitution-related arrests during the last Super Bowl than the previous year.

The empirical research linking big sporting events with a rise in prostitution is less conclusive than that for flu deaths and domestic abuse. Still, anecdotal reports abound that prostitutes flood host cities during the two biggest global sporting events—the World Cup and Summer Olympics.