Friday, June 20, 2014

Fermi Problem Friday: Is World Cup Fever Killing People Who Watch Too Much Futbol?

According to recent stories coming out of China, at least three soccer-obsessed fans have died after seeing too much of the world's favorite sport.

Dead Card by Mike Lucibella

The news should probably make me a little nervous, I suppose. I've seen every game of World Cup, either live or recorded. The articles about Chinese deaths suggest that the problem stems from the time difference, which exhausts futbol-addicted fans who are forced to watch games in the wee hours. I'm in the US eastern time zone, which isn't far removed from Brazil time, but I still watch at least two games very late every at night because I can't sit at my desk screaming "goooooooooooool" all the time.

The scary thing is, while I don't know the specifics, I'm pretty sure that around 27 deaths in the US were associated with the game between team USA and Ghana alone!

Here's how I figure it. 

The average lifespan in the US is about 80 years. Conservatively, it's safe to say that nobody alive today will be around in 100 years (with a few anomalous exceptions of course). So most people live for no more than

100 years= 36,500 days = 876,000 hours

In other words a randomly chosen person has one chance in 876,000 of dying in any given hour.

About 16 million people watched the USA-Ghana game in the US alone, so the number of people watching the game who probably died here in the States is likely to be about

(16,000,000 people)(1death/876,000 person-hours)(1.5 hours) = 27 deaths among people tuning into the game

Because these people were watching the game at the time of their passing, it's safe to say that their deaths were equally as associated with the game as was the case for the three unfortunate folks in China.

Another way to calculate the same thing is to look at mortality rates.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, about 800 people out of a population of 100,000 will die every year.

Of the 16 million who sat down to watch the USA-Ghana game we can expect

(16,000,000 people)(800 deaths per year/100,000 people) = 128,000 deaths per year

or (128,000 deaths/year)(1 year/ 365 days)(1 day /24 hours)  = 14 deaths per hour

So for a 1.5 hour game, that means about 21 deaths.

That's a bit lower than my initial estimate of 27 deaths, but not far off. (The fact that I only used logic and didn't have to look up any stats for the first calculation makes it a more impressive Fermi estimate, in my humble opinion.)

This shocking World Cup carnage immediately suggests a few questions:

1) Where is the outrage? How can we let a silly game be associated with so many deaths and not see reports of it nightly on the news?

2) Only three World Cup Fever deaths have been reported in China this year - why are so few people dying in China during the World Cup? Could it be that watching soccer is somehow a prophylactic?

I suspect most of you know the answers to those questions, so I'll just leave them out there for now. Weigh in on them with a comment, if you want to share.


  1. You aren't accounting for age. The average age of people during the game's time frame is probably much different from the average age of people actually watching the game.

  2. How would you account for that? I'll be happy to add it in to the calculation.

  3. I also don't account for gender. I would guess that more men watch the games than women, and men have shorter lifespans so the number would go up.