On Thursday I posted what I though was a fun little piece with some interesting statistics about how much is consumed on Super Bowl Sunday. In The Super Bowl: By The Numbers, I selected a few of the fun statistics that had been posted a few years earlier in a post on the blog Tree Hugger. Because it was “just for fun,” I didn’t question their statistics or look to see where they came from.
But it looks like I should have, as a few trustworthy commenters have pointed out that one of those factoids doesn’t make sense. The statistic in question? That Americans drink 325.5 million Gallons of beer on Super Sunday. As was pointed out, that math doesn’t really stand up to scrutiny. As Jess put it: “Doesn’t that equal over ten 12 oz. bottles of beer for every man, woman and child in the country? Or if only the 151 million watching the game are drinking, close to a case of beer for every viewer. And, at over 10 million barrels, 5% of all the beer sold in the US all year long is consumed in one day?” So what’s going on?
The estimated population of America in January 2010, when this number was first published was an estimated 308.4 million people. Today, according to the Census Bureau’s Population Clock we’re closing in on 313 million.
325.5 million gallons is roughly 41,664,000,000 ounces, or 3,472,000,000 12-oz. bottles (that’s nearly 3.5 billion bottles) or 2,604,000,000 pint glasses (2.6 billion pints). So assuming the 2010 population, that means each man, woman and child would have to drink 11.258 bottles of beer during the Super Bowl to make that math work. In pints, it would amount to 8.44 pints per person.
But, of course, kids aren’t drinking so let’s take them out of the equation. The census bureau states that in 2010 there were 234,564,000 adults in America (which, you have to laugh, is 18-year olds and above). Since apart from being allowed to drink alcohol, U.S. citizens are considered adults at age 18, I don’t have any statistics for 21 and above. But alright, let’s use that figure; after all the neo-prohibitionists keep claiming our youth are a bunch of drunks anyway. Assuming the 234.5 million figure, each adult would have to drink nearly 15 bottles of beer each or just over 11 pints.
And despite evil alcohol advertising, not every adult chooses to drink alcohol. But how many? That’s trickier. CBS reported in 2010 that 60% of American drink alcohol while a Rasmussen Report in November 2010 found that 29% said they never drink alcohol, meaning 71% do. Additional studies report findings that range widely, so it’s pretty hard to pin down an exact number. So for our purposes let’s examine 60% and 70%. 60% of 234.5 million is 140,736,000 and 70% is 164,194,800. So depending on whose number you accept adult American drinkers had 24.7 bottles (just over a case) or 21.2 bottles (a few bottles shy of a case). For 16-oz. servings, it’s between 18.5 and almost 16 pints. Even drilled down that far, that’s some Brobdingnagian drinking on the part of every American for the Super Bowl.
So from just about every angle, that 325.5 million gallons of beer on one day factoid appears to be a complete fantasy. It doesn’t seem physically possible that Americans could consume that much, even if they were so inclined. So who’s the Snake Oil Salesman selling that lie?
To Tree Hugger’s credit, they did include links at the bottom of their original post under the headline References, where the links take you to the sources they used. They’re a bit of a mishmash, and I had to essentially look at each one to sort it out, but eventually I found the source of the beer figure. Regular readers will not be surprised to learn that it came from Alcohol Justice, back in the day when they were still called the Marin Institute. As soon as I saw that name, I knew it was probably them. When you click on the link, you can download the 2010 “Fact” Sheet from their ridiculous “Free the Bowl” campaign. And there on page 4 is “Americans consume more than 325.5 million gallons of beer during the Super Bowl.” While many of the factoids there are footnoted with the source, this one, of course, is not. So where did they get it? I have to assume they just made it up, since it’s so absurd a figure.
I’m constantly amazed that an organization that claims to hold the alcohol industry “accountable” for what it calls lies and exaggerations, can be so utterly lacking in its own truthiness. Because that number simply can’t be true, and they can’t possibly be unaware that it’s not true. If you’re insisting that others be truthful, I’d think at the very least that you should apply that same standard to yourself. At the very least, it’s hypocritical.
And that’s also why it’s so insidious. They make up a number, put out a press release, which is then picked up and disseminated uncritically by someone either unfamiliar or unaware of their agenda. Who knows how many other news organizations, websites, blogs, etc. cited that statistic. And each one of them, like Tree Hugger, has the potential to spread it again, without the original source. Even though they cited it, however vaguely, most people wouldn’t even notice or question it. Many probably passed it along without even citing where it came from, and in short order it’s out there and people believe it. So that’s my mea culpa. I was hoodwinked by the propaganda. I should have looked at that number more closely, and the source of it, as well. I was just trying to have a bit of fun with the Super Bowl. Serves me right, I guess. So now you know.