Flushing away the Super Bowl

We get insight into Super Bowl viewing habits just by watching water use. Here’s how we know when you’re on the “go.”

February 9, 2017 | By: Steve Snyder

We remember it like it was yesterday.

Broncos fans celebrated a Super Bowl win in downtown Denver last year.
Broncos fans celebrated a Super Bowl win in downtown Denver last year. But water-use patterns show they weren’t as interested in this year’s result.

Sunday, Feb. 7, 2016, the Denver Broncos  defeated the Carolina Panthers in Super Bowl 50. All of Colorado partied like it was 1999 (which was, coincidently, the last time we celebrated a Broncos’ Super Bowl win).

But this year — what a letdown. The Broncos didn’t even make the playoffs, leaving the entire Rocky Mountain region to deal with the dog days of winter without that warm, orange hue of a Broncos’ playoff run. We feel it all over our city, with many people finding other things to do besides watching the Super Bowl.

At Denver Water, we also have a sense if people are watching the big game. We see it in our customers’ demand for water.

You might have heard of the “orange flush” — the spike in water usage that Denver Water system operators see at breaks during Broncos games, when masses of fans head to the head. Those water-use trends really manifest themselves on Super Bowl Sunday, when even more people typically arrange their cooking, cleaning and even their bathroom breaks, around the Super Bowl. Just by looking at the peaks and valleys in water usage, we get some insight into how engaged people are in the game.

So we wondered how much difference there is in water use when the Broncos are playing in the big game compared to when they’re not.

A quick look at the figures from last year showed only three real spikes in water use: before the game (166 million gallons), right before halftime (122 million gallons) and right after the game (123 million gallons). Clearly, we had a lot of Broncos fans glued to their seats, particularly in the second half, only taking breaks at the most convenient times. Guess they didn’t want to miss out on plays like this.

System operators keep an eye on water demand throughout Denver Water's system, particularly on Super Bowl Sunday.
System operators keep an eye on water demand throughout Denver Water’s system, particularly on Super Bowl Sunday. And we see different patterns of use when the Broncos play in the big game.

This year, when the Atlanta Falcons and New England Patriots played, local viewers didn’t appear to be as invested in the game’s outcome. Customer water use peaked before the game (167 million gallons), spiked at halftime (121 million gallons) then fluctuated as the Patriots mounted their historic comeback. As opposed to the previous year, football fans seemed to pop in and out of the game, and most likely their bathrooms, through most of the second half.

Our observations may not be as accurate as the television ratings, but we can tell when people are using water. And regardless of who is playing in the big game, Denver Water is ready, willing and able to support a “super flush.” It’s just more fun when the Broncos are there.

As for flushing away the Super Bowl, we apologize to Falcons’ fans who might take that headline the wrong way. We’ve been there before, too. There’s always next year!

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