America’s Super Bowl isn’t February 2 in New York; it’s December 23 in Louisville

We love stuff. Getting stuff. Presents. Packages. Things arriving via mail with our name on them. Super-fast shipping via Amazon and other sellers. We love the rapid acquisition of things. This is human nature.

So, in reality, our true Super Bowl isn’t some NFL game — it’s the next couple of weeks at WorldPort, which is UPS’ primary shipping hub (and is attached to the Louisville, KY airport). Tomorrow, for example, is the busiest global pickup day of the year for UPS; they’ll pick up 34 million packages world-wide on Monday. Between Wednesday and a week from Wednesday (Christmas), UPS will, in totality, deliver about 129 packages. That’s 300 packages per second, if you’re into very breathless data.

Because of the location of WorldPort, Louisville’s airport is the 7th-busiest cargo hub in the world. Hong Kong is No. 1, and the only two airports in the U.S. ranked higher are Memphis (where FedEx’s hub is) and (surprisingly) Anchorage, Alaska — which a lot of companies use for east-west cargo drops. UPS actually delivers about five times as many packages as FedEx does, especially in the holiday season, but FedEx’s airport hub is ranked higher because FedEx is a bigger fleet of airplanes — 660 to about 230 for UPS. (That also explains part of the gap in revenue — UPS makes about 1.5-2x what FedEx does — because FedEx has more overhead in terms of fuel and plane maintenance.)

Watch the video embedded at the top, or watch this one:

The technology at WorldPort is obviously fairly staggering — you can read about some of it here and here — and while Louisville may seem like a weird location for the facility (it’s roughly the 27th-biggest city in the U.S.), it’s actually kind of logical:

So, why Louisville? Simply put: good weather and short travel times. The Derby City has generally temperate weather and is about a two-hour flight from 75 percent of the US population, and a four-hour flight away from 95 percent of other folks in the nation — key factors to ensure consistent and speedy deliveries. The surrounding area has become a prime spot for a bevy of companies to set up their own distribution facilities thanks to UPS’ presence.

Here’s a solid quote about WorldPort from a UNC-Chapel Hill business professor:

“In a way, the Worldport is the physical manifestation of the globalization process,” said John Kasarda, a professor at the University of North Carolina’s Kenan-Flagler Business School who studies global infrastructure. “Everyone talks about the world being flat and the ‘information Internet,’ but the web won’t move a box. Somebody has to pick it up and ship it.”

I’ve been looking around to see if all the proprietary technology in WorldPort was designed by U.S. engineers (I doubt it, but I’m not entirely sure). Louisville doesn’t have a great public school reputation, so it would be depressing and ironic if one of the major institutions helping to drive money and jobs into the area was predicated on technology developed by those embracing science in other countries. Again, I’m not 100 percent sure that’s true, though. (Some info here, via Siemens.)

Whenever we think our true “Super Bowl” moment is the actual game, or an election cycle, or our response to a tragedy — those are all part of it, and part of what makes America great and ties it together. But the essence of connectedness in many of our minds, or the arrival of packages and gifts showcasing our love for each other, comes from a stretch of tarmac, a bunch of machines, and about 20K employees in America’s 27th-biggest city over a week and a half in December. Kinda crazy.

Ted Bauer