Experts available: Super Bowl ads, chicken wings, the science behind hot sauce, and behavioral economics of sports
For most people, the Super Bowl isn’t just about the game. For many, the food and entertainment take center stage. Ahead of the big game, Virginia Tech experts can speak on a variety of topics, including the science behind your favorite hot sauce, how the Super Bowl has shaped the chicken wing industry, what to watch for in those ever-so-entertaining commercials, and why sometimes people choose to cheer for a team to lose.
The science behind hot sauce
The first bite of the chicken wing dripping with hot sauce doesn’t feel so bad. Flavorful, but has a bit of a kick. You take another. And then that sweet heat has now turned into a roar, complete with a tingling face and sweat streaked forehead. Sean O’Keefe, a professor in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences’ Department of Food Science and Technology, said the levels of capsaicin, a colorless and odorless compound, found in peppers are the reason why hot sauces bring the heat. “When I get the right amount, I’m sweating and turning red. It’s just the physiological response,” O’Keefe said. “What the capsaicin does is bind to nerve receptors in the body and gives a sensation of burning.”
Good news though, O’Keefe explains that extended exposure to capsaicin could make it more tolerable to the human body. “There’s definitively a habituation effect where if people eat hot sauce all the time they get used to it so it doesn’t bother you quite as much. I likely burned out my receptors long ago,” O’Keefe said. “But being hot for the sake of hot isn’t fun. Heat needs to have flavor.”
Video and photos from the food science lab of O’Keefe and students making hot sauce available upon request. Read more here.
Good news… Eggs might be up, but wing prices are down. Why?
Americans are expected to devour 1.45 billion chicken wings for the Super Bowl, according to the National Chicken Council. Michael Persia, a professor and Virginia Cooperative Extension specialist of poultry nutrition and management in the School of Animal Sciences in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, said the game’s impact on the industry has been transformative. “They’ve taken a portion of the bird that was undesirable, turned it into a valuable product, and reduced waste.”
Some may have expected prices to be up due to the avian flu’s impact on eggs, but Persia explains that’s not the case. “It is important to note that avian influenza does not directly affect the egg, but it affects the chickens that lay the eggs, thereby reducing the number of eggs we have for sale,” said Persia. “Younger broiler chickens have not been as hard hit as adult laying hens and broiler companies have worked through the supply chain and other economic issues left over from the pandemic to produce enough chickens to reduce the cost of wings compared to last year.”
Beer and wholesome ads to dominate commercial time
For many viewers, watching hilarious or sentimental ads is more invigorating than a touchdown. Super Bowl ads generate a rare marketing opportunity in which Rajesh Bagchi, a professor of marketing at Virginia Tech’s Pamplin College of Business, said there is a large and engaged audience willing to watch commercials all the way through. “Brands can utilize the Super Bowl to create fresh memories, rebrand, introduce brand extensions, or change how they connect with consumers.”
Bagchi predicts that tones of social justice and community will also be on the rise. “Companies might choose ads that would try to engage and connect with consumers and build brand loyalty. We may not see many controversial themes this time around. Humor and nostalgia will also continue to be important as usual,” said Bagchi.
Bagchi also predicts that TikTok and Instagram will play a major role. “You’ll see firms adapt their messaging and creative for this audience that is different from the target television consumer or use it to build brand presence.”
Cheering for the other team to lose
Some football fans tune into the Super Bowl, or really any given game, not to cheer on their favorite team, but to root for a team they don’t like to lose. Call it Schadenfreud, the feeling of pleasure from watching another person’s misfortune or harm.
“It’s like this weird mix of behavioral economics and psychology,” said Jadrian Wooten, an economist in the Virginia Tech College of Science. “Schadenfreude has some fun importance in sports economics literature in that people will actively pay to watch someone else lose. So, while lots of people will be tuning in for a good game or to see their team play, there will be a third group of people tuning in just to watch one of the teams lose.”
There are different levels of this behavior, too, according to Jadrian. That is, how badly does a person want the other team to lose. “Do we want to see the other team get crushed or watch them lose in the last 10 seconds? This is one of the few strange behavioral things we do, preferring negative outcomes and reveling in another person’s misery. We don’t do that for anything else. If we see someone fall down, no one is happy, or few people are happy, to see that.”
It’s all connected to emotion. If a person, or even an animal such as a monkey, can feel empathy, then they can feel call callousness. Monkeys do this, too, Wooten says. They can feel empathy for each other. But they’ll also take joy in watching something be taken away from another monkey or watching a fellow monkey fall down. “Sports has all those components.”
Schedule an interview
To secure an interview with any of these experts, contact Margaret Ashburn in the media relations office at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 540-529-0814.