Human Capital & Careers

Hoop Dreams: Everybody in the Pool

Yes, it hurts productivity, but the NCAA basketball tournament is good for office morale.
Marie LeoneMarch 16, 2006

When the Wichita State Shockers tip off against the Seton Hall Pirates at 12:20 p.m. eastern time on Thursday, it will mark the start of “March Madness,” and the beginning of a $3.8-billion loss in worker productivity, says John Challenger, the CEO of Chicago-based outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas.

The Wichita/Seton Hall match-up is the first contest in the 64-game National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) men’s basketball tournament, with top teams vying for the title of best hoopsters in the land. Over 40 percent of the U.S. working population — or 58.6 million workers — consider themselves college basketball fans, notes a recent Gallup poll.

As a result, betting pools, in and out of the office, have become ubiquitous, and according to the sports media company ESPN, the average worker spends 13.5 minutes per day during the two-week long tournament checking the Internet, television, and radio for game scores and managing their pool entries. So, in aggregate, employees spend 13 million hours tracking how many three-pointers Gonzaga’s Adam Morrison knocks down, or how many attempted shots West Virginia’s Kevin Pittsnogle blocks.

Lost productivity, according to Challenger, amounts to $237 million per day. That calculation is based on workers making the national average of $18 per hour.

But Challenger says the multi-billion loss is well worth the cost, especially if managers can capitalize on worker enthusiasm. He says that as unemployment figures drop (currently national unemployment is at 4.7 percent), and job seekers gain an upper hand, human resource managers becomes more focused attracting and retaining talent. Indeed, participating in the March Madness fun may be one way for companies to spread good will.

“The great thing about the tournament is that it involves so many people — those that follow sports and those that don’t,” muses Challenger, who says that the national scope of the tournament usually means that most workers can identify with at least one team.