Sports in the US: Year-round madness
From the bracketology of March Madness to ESPN Everything, sports has become one of the most pervasive forces in American culture. Is it a great unifying force or a sign of misplaced priorities?
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Even if we're not physically at the ballpark, the mental space fandom takes up can ease stress on the wallet. Peter Geller, director of fantasy sports products at Yahoo, says that more than 10 million people play fantasy sports online every year. The time people spend checking scores and updating rosters represents a form of free entertainment. "It's a cheap way to have fun and to occupy your time, instead of spending money at the mall," he says.Skip to next paragraph
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Culture of the cubicle
$1.8 billion. That's how much outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas, Inc., which conducts an annual study on workplace productivity (or lack thereof) during college basketball's March Madness, says employers will pay in wages to unproductive employees between "selection Sunday" (March 14) and the end of the first round (March 19). The firm estimated that during the first week, workers would spend at least 20 minutes a day talking about the tournament, watching games online, or fiddling with their brackets.
(And there's an endless amount of fiddling to be done: If you created a unique March Madness bracket every second, it would take 30 billion years before you ran out of new combinations.) A Microsoft/MSN poll last year found that 45 percent of people planned to participate in at least one office pool during the tournament, so those 20 minutes per person add up to billions of dollars.
The guilty pleasure of watching sports at the office is widespread. CBS Sports began streaming all the college basketball playoff games on-demand in 2008, garnering 4.92 million viewers in the first year and raising its viewership 75 percent last year, tempting 7.52 million people away from their work to watch. And, yes, we know for a fact they were at work: Nielsen's Web ratings show that 92 percent of the site's traffic came from work computers.
Even better: CBS provides a "Boss Button" with its video player. In case of a boss-related emergency (meeting, cubicle check-in), the worker can click on the Boss Button and a spreadsheet will fill the screen, shielding the video from prying managers. The Boss Button's no joke, either: Nervous cubicle lurkers clicked it 2.77 million times during last year's tourney.
The impact of March Madness can be more nefarious than just idle workers. The FBI estimates $2.5 billion is bet annually on the month-long tournament. Experts believe even simple wagers can lead to more dangerous forms of betting. "You always start somewhere, and for sports gamblers, it's NCAA brackets or Super Bowl squares," says Timothy Otteman, a sports gambling expert at Central Michigan University in Mount Pleasant.
Others, however, see beneficial effects from the water-cooler chats and friendly intra-office pools. They believe talk about the previous night's games may do more to promote office bonding than expensive company-sponsored retreats. "I think people who have fun at work ultimately end up being more productive," says Mr. Skipper of ESPN. "Camaraderie at work only builds team spirit."
Plus, many have pointed out, in response to the Challenger, Gray & Christmas report, that the lines between work life and home life have blurred. With the advent of smart phones and mobile Web capabilities, people can work anytime, anywhere, including while sitting in a recliner in front of a television, watching their favorite team. Inversely, many office workers use company time to shop online, make personal calls, and peruse social-networking sites – and that happens all year, not just in March.