With less than two weeks to go before the opening kick-off in the National Football League season, the estimated 24.3 million Americans who participate in fantasy football leagues will undoubtedly spend several hours in the coming days fine-tuning their draft selections and opening-day rosters. Unfortunately for the nation’s employers, some of the time spent on player research may come during business hours.
According to a very rough, non-scientific, non-verifiable estimate, global outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas, Inc., if 22.3 million American workers spend one hour each week managing their fantasy football team during the average 15-week fantasy football season, the cost to the nation’s employers in terms of wages paid to unproductive workers could approach $6.5 billion.
“Before fantasy football players around the country launch a letter-writing campaign lambasting our numbers, it is important to realize that even if this figure was verifiable and accurate, it would not even register as a blip on the economic radar,” said noted John A. Challenger, chief executive officer of Challenger, Gray & Christmas.
“Employers will not see any impact on their bottom line and, for the most part, business will proceed as usual. However, even if the economic impact is faint, it is important to acknowledge fantasy football’s overall impact as a societal and workplace phenomenon. Companies that embrace the growing popularity of this activity could actually see a positive impact, particularly in terms of employee sentiment and loyalty. Those that try to squash employees’ use of time and the company Internet for fantasy football could see consequences far worse than a few distracted workers,” he noted.
How did the firm reach its estimate? It assumed that 8.2 percent of the 24.3 million fantasy football participants (as estimated by the Fantasy Sports Trade Association) are unemployed, leaving about 22.3 million employed team managers. The latest Bureau of Labor Statistics data show that weekly earnings for all Americans in the second quarter averaged $773 or $19.33 per hour. Assuming on the conservative side that fantasy football participants spend one hour each week researching stats and tweaking their rosters, the firm multiplied the $19.33 figure by the 22.3 million employed participants. That results in a dollar amount of approximately $430.9 million each week in unproductive wages paid by employers to fantasy footballers. Multiply that by 15 weeks and the total reaches $6.46 billion.
Football is, of course, the most popular fantasy sport, played by roughly 80 percent of all fantasy sports participants. According to market research, players spend up to nine hours a week planning and plotting their strategies for weekly matchups in 70 million free and paid leagues (the average player belongs to 2.5 leagues).
“It would be difficult to determine how much of that weekly prep time is spent during work hours. It is even more difficult to determine how time spent managing teams during work hours actually impacts productivity or the company’s bottom line,” said Challenger.
“In an economy this size and one that is increasingly focused on information and services, it is nearly impossible to measure the financial impact of any workplace distraction, whether it is managing fantasy football teams, filling out March Madness brackets, shop online for Christmas gifts, or taking 10-minute smoking breaks every couple of hours. The same widespread access to the internet from our desks, phones and laptops that allows people to manage their fantasy teams from any place at any time, also allows work to be completed outside of traditional 9-to-5 work hours,” said Challenger.
“The impact is more likely to be seen by department managers and team leaders, who have a better sense of their workers’ day-to-day work flow. Even at level, though, it might not be worth cracking down on fantasy football, unless the quantity or quality of an individual’s work drops off significantly,” he added.
A survey conducted during the 2010 football season by Challenger found that fantasy football had little to no impact on productivity. Ranking the level of distraction on a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being no noticeable impact, nearly 70 percent said four or lower. Less than eight percent of respondents said the level of distraction rated a 7 or 8 and none of the respondents felt the phenomenon deserved a 9 or 10.
“An across-the-board ban on all fantasy football or sports websites could backfire in the form of reduced morale and loyalty. The result could be far worse than the loss of productivity caused by 10 to 20 minutes of team management each day.
“Companies that not only allow workers to indulge in fantasy football, but actually encourage it by organizing a company leagues are likely to see significant benefits in morale as well as productivity,” Challenger said. “In the long run, this may lead to increased employee retention.”
In a 2006 Ipsos survey, 40 percent of respondents said fantasy sports participation was a positive influence in the workplace. Another 40 percent said it increases camaraderie among employees. One in five said their involvement in fantasy sports enabled them to make a valuable business contact.
Furthermore, a more recent study by researchers at the National University of Singapore found that occasional non-work-related web browsing at the office can refresh tired workers and enhance overall productivity.
Despite evidence of fantasy football’s positive impact on the workplace, less than eight percent those surveyed by Challenger in 2010 said their companies “embrace” fantasy football participation as a morale-boosting activity and none of the employers represented officially organized leagues.