March Madness Return Will Cost Employers $13.8 Billion, Study Says

Scoring the winning points at a basketball game.
Brocreative /

Every year, America pauses as over 60 men’s and women’s basketball teams meet in the single-elimination NCAA basketball tournament to crown a single champion. After the 2020 tournament was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the demand for on-the-court action and drama of the tournament is higher than ever before. 

For a workforce that remains at home, the distraction of March Madness could result in a major loss of productivity. New analysis from outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas suggests this year’s tournament could cost employers over $13 billion from their workforce.

See: What Do You Think About COVID-19 Digital Passports? Take Our PollFind: Everyone Who Is Impacted by a Scaled-Down NCAA Tournament

Up To 34.5 Million Predicted To Fill Out Brackets

Even though data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics suggest nearly one-fourth of Americans remain working from home, there will undoubtedly be a surge of employee groups exchanging tournament brackets and holding office contests for who can make the most accurate predictions. While this will be a welcome return to normal, it will come with a cost in productivity. 

Previous surveys estimated between 40 and 60 million Americans fill out a March Madness bracket every year. This year is expected to be no different, as Challenger, Gray & Christmas estimate between 23 million and 34.5 million will be predicting the ultimate winner of the men’s basketball tournament. 

See: The Richest College Basketball Programs in AmericaFind: The Highest-Paid College Basketball Coaches in America

Additionally, in 2019, NCAA basketball tournament games were streamed over 100 million times across the country — many of those taking place during working hours. That same year, a survey conducted by OfficeTeam discovered employees spent an average of 25.5 minutes per day on “March Madness-related activities,” including updating pools and adjusting brackets. With workers telecommuting from home, the temptation to indulge in watching games could turn into lost productivity to the tune of $13.8 billion in March alone.

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“Challenger’s estimate is based on the number of working Americans who are likely to be caught up in March Madness, the estimated time spent filling out brackets and streaming games,” the report notes. “That would mean 72,114,720 workers are participating in March Madness activities while at work. Using this figure multiplied by the average hourly wage, the games could cost employers $2.16 billion per hour.” 

Employers Should Embrace — Not Punish — March Madness

Even though there will be lost productivity, Challenger says employers shouldn’t completely discourage the madness. Some ways companies could use the season to bring workers together include creating companywide, free-to-enter pools, with prizes including gift cards or lunches sent to their home. Employee groups could also use teleconferencing tools like Zoom to create game watch parties, allowing workers to join in throughout the day.

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