We tracked Uber surge pricing during the Super Bowl. Here's what we learned

A military Humvee drives past a sign for an Uber pickup zone
A military Humvee drives past a sign for an Uber pickup zone in downtown Minneapolis on Saturday.
Evan Frost | MPR News

Uber pricing surged the highest Saturday night, Sunday morning and early Monday.

MPR News sampled Uber surge pricing every 15 minutes in five areas: downtown Minneapolis, U.S. Bank Stadium, uptown, the Mall of America and Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport. Uber increases prices by a "surge multiplier" during times of high demand. We tracked those surge multipliers. The highest surge we found was 3.9x regular prices, at 4:30 a.m. Monday in downtown Minneapolis.

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Some Uber drivers made more money than usual during the Super Bowl, but it wasn't the jackpot many expected.

"The early part of [Super Bowl] week was horrible," driver Michael Thorne of Apple Valley said. Driver Dan Wolter of Burnsville also expected more demand Monday through Wednesday. "It was like a bomb of demand was dropped on the metro area [Thursday]," Wolter said.

"Surge multipliers" picking up, but remain low during Super Bowl week.
Nothing beyond a 2.4 was recorded in downtown Minneapolis on Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday. Wednesday, shown in orange, had more activity earlier in the evening while Monday and Tuesday did not show much until bar closure times. (Data collection adapted from Northwestern University Computational Journalism Lab.)
William Lager & Solvejg Wastvedt | MPR News graphic

Even over the weekend, the surges weren't as big as the pre-Super Bowl hype. "Everybody was kind of under the impression we were all going to pay off our houses with Uber income. ... It wasn't that way at all," Wolter said.

But Wolter said he made more than he would on a typical weekend. Thorne said he also saw an income boost Saturday. Thorne said Saturday's increase balanced out the lower demand from earlier in the week, resulting in an average week's income.

In the hours leading up to the Super Bowl, surge pricing all but disappeared from downtown Minneapolis.

From about noon on Sunday until just before kickoff, surge multipliers disappeared from all locations we sampled except Uptown. It was a steep drop from surges earlier in the day, and the lull disappeared Sunday night and Monday morning.

24 hours of Uber "surge multipliers" on Super Bowl Sunday
24 hours of Uber "surge multipliers" on Super Bowl Sunday. (Data collection adapted from Northwestern University Computational Journalism Lab.)
William Lager, Solvejg Wastvedt, & Bill Wareham | MPR News graphic

Although we can track Uber pricing, the reasons for surge and lack of surge are much less clear.

An Uber spokesperson declined to answer questions from MPR News about what factors determine surge pricing. Uber did say surge multipliers depend on demand for rides at the requesting rider's location.

We don't know how much weight Uber gives the supply of drivers in calculating surge multipliers. We also don't know if Uber changes the surge multiplier in any ways that have nothing to do with demand. Drivers and riders simply see the surge multiplier and not the calculation behind it, so Uber surge is kind of a black box.

Uber said ridership more than doubled in the Twin Cities on Super Bowl Sunday compared to the previous week.

In a news release, Uber said Twin Cities trips increased by 143 percent compared to the previous Sunday. A quarter of Twin Cities riders on Sunday traveled to or from U.S. Bank Stadium, according to the release.

Data collection adapted from Northwestern University Computational Journalism Lab.