What caused power outage at Super Bowl: Is 'abnormality' the whole story?

'What caused power outage' may be the biggest mystery of Super Bowl XLVII. The local energy company cited an 'abnormality in the system,' but the root cause for that is still unknown.

Charlie Riedel/AP
Fans and members of the Baltimore Ravens and San Francisco 49ers wait for power to return in the Superdome during a power outage in the second half of the NFL Super Bowl XLVII football game, Sunday, in New Orleans.

Super Bowl XLVII leaves its share of mysteries in its wake, and one of the biggest is unrelated to football tactics or the inner workings of the Harbaugh family: What caused the power outage just as the second half was getting started?

A power outage left the game in limbo for more than half an hour, baffling commentators and setting the stage for the dramatic near-comeback of the San Francisco 49ers.

Was it a ploy by Chinese hackers to exhibit their capabilities at a moment that had the attention of some 50 million Americans?

Did Beyoncé’s flashy halftime show overtax the Superdome’s circuitry?

Those questions sprang naturally to mind for many an average viewer. But so far the hard evidence that’s emerged is more mundane.

The company Entergy, which supplies power to the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, says a sensor discovered an “abnormality” in the electrical load, triggering the shutdown.

“Shortly after the beginning of the second half of the Super Bowl in the Mercedes Benz Superdome, a piece of equipment that is designed to monitor electrical load sensed an abnormality in the system,” says a joint statement from Entergy and SMG, the management company for the Superdome.

“Once the issue was detected, the sensing equipment operated as designed and opened a breaker, causing power to be partially cut to the Superdome in order to isolate the issue,” the statement continues. “Backup generators kicked in immediately as designed. Entergy and SMG subsequently coordinated start up procedures, ensuring that full power was safely restored to the Superdome.”

The obvious follow-on question is, What caused that abnormality?

The statement said Entergy and SMG are continuing to investigate for an answer on that “root cause.”

The fault-sensing equipment, the companies added, operated right where Superdome equipment intersects with Entergy's feed of incoming power. An FBI special agent, quoted by The Associated Press, said terrorism didn't cause the power problem.

The halftime show and the CBS broadcast were operating on their own power sources, separate from the rest of the stadium, a representative of SMG said Monday morning, according to the news site NOLA.com, which covers the New Orleans area. Separately, the Louisiana Stadium and Exposition District said the blackout was unrelated to emergency electrical work that was done at the Superdome in December, the news website reported.

The incident was relatively brief, as power outages go. But it occurred at an important time and place – right in the stadium where the National Football League (NFL) championship was at stake, with millions of Americans watching, and with the momentum resting heavily with the Baltimore Ravens.

Jacoby Jones had just returned the second-half kickoff for a touchdown in a Super Bowl record run of 108 yards. The score favored the Ravens 28-6.

The problems appear to have had little effect on viewership. According to ratings reported by TVLine.com, viewership dipped a bit during the outage, but were high throughout the game.

A final audience tally isn't yet in, but TVLine said the "overnight household rating" for the game notched a 1 percent gain over last year’s contest, which the NFL has claimed as the most-watched US show ever, with 111.3 million viewers.

CBS commentators struggled to know what to make of the domed darkness. Jim Nantz offered this crack to colleague Phil Simms: "Next time you decide to plug in your phone charger, give us a warning, will you?”

As can sometimes happen in sports, the unexpected delay gave an opening to the trailing team.

When the lights were powered up, and play resumed, the 49ers made it look like a whole new game, rolling steadily toward a nearly even score.

In the end, the Ravens held the line against the Niners final, must-do drive. So Super Bowl XLVII won’t be known for an outcome determined in part by an electrical fluke. But the outage may have helped to make the game one for the history books, for the razor-thin 34-31 victory by which one Coach Harbaugh beat another.

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