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Big Games Give Pols A Chance To Score With Voters

Ben Bradford

Charlotte has more than just a berth in the NFC Championship on the line in Saturday’s Panthers-Seahawks playoff game. Politicians have bet regional goods on their teams. Let’s take a much-too-serious look at the friendly wagers.

 The Mayoral Bet

Charlotte Mayor Dan Clodfelter walked to the center of the field at the Panthers' stadium in windy, freezing weather to outline his bet with Seattle Mayor Ed Murray.

“If the Panthers lose—and that’s not going to happen by the way—we’re going to send him some salted caramel brownies from Amelie’s,” the mayor said. “We’re going to send him some memorabilia and some things from Olde Mecklenburg Brewery.”

Plus, shoes from local sneaker company ReKixx.

If the Seahawks lose, Seattle sends a gift basket from Sub Pop Records, containing vinyl LPs from bands, including Nirvana and the Shins, and comedian Sarah Silverman.

Also, the losing mayor takes a “selfie” in the winner’s jersey.

The Odds

Vegas set the Panthers as 11-point underdogs, a historically accurate predictor.

“If you look at the betting markets, Carolina has about a one-in-six chance of winning the game,” says Andrew Healy, economics professor at Loyola Marymount University and contributor to sports analytics site Football Outsiders.

Healy and I determined the bet doesn’t reflect the odds—after all, Mayor Murray isn’t required to take five selfies for a Seahawks loss.

Healy discussed some ways to bring the bet more in-line with the odds.

“I guess you could leave out those recyclable sneakers. You could leave out the glasses and hats for the brewery, just make it just the caramel brownies versus the whole gift basket from Seattle,” he says. “If you were trying to even it up, Seattle should be putting in five times more stuff on the line than Carolina is, so just make it a one-to-five match, and then you have a fair bet.”

More bets

Two of the Charlotte area’s members of Congress, Alma Adams and Robert Pittenger, also bet local foods against their Seattle-area colleagues. Adams will supply Bojangles chicken and KrispyKreme doughnuts if the Panthers lose, while Pittenger will throw in North Carolina barbecue.

Washington representatives Suzan DelBene, Jim McDermott, and Adam Smith wagered local smoked salmon, beef jerky, popcorn, and beer.

Again, not a great bet from a material standpoint, especially considering it’s three against two.

Political benefits

But Healy says, while the material bets are out of whack, the mayor and representatives are making a shrewd political move.

“We have some research that shows when local teams win games that incumbents do better in elections,” says Healy. “It’s actually pretty easy to show. It’s not a huge effect, but it’s real.”

Healy conducted a study with Stanford economists showing the effect of a local win could boost a candidate’s popularity 1-2 percentage points.

So if people are in a good mood, because the local team wins, they’re more likely to support incumbents for governor, for president, and for senator. Presumably, that should also hold true for mayors.

Healy says the more surprising the win, and the more closely the politicians associate themselves with the team, the bigger the effect. And from that perspective, the bets look far better.