Employers Pay the Real Cost of Fantasy Football

August 30, 2016, 9:59 PM UTC
NFL: NFC Championship-Arizona Cardinals at Carolina Panthers
Jan 24, 2016; Charlotte, NC, USA; Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton (1) celebrates on the side lines during the fourth quarter against the Arizona Cardinals in the NFC Championship football game at Bank of America Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports - RTX23U1E
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Now that the NFL pre-season is in full swing, fantasy football aficionados have to hustle to get their teams in order. And all that research takes time and broadband internet access, which is why the office makes for a great pre-draft war room—whether you’re on the clock, or not.

According to Chicago-based employment research firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas, the sheer number of fully-employed fantasy football freaks could cost U.S. employers close to a whopping $17 billion (with a “b”) in lost productivity. That total eclipses the amount of total revenue the NFL took in last year—which was a mere $13 billion or so.

These numbers are hard to crunch, acknowledges Challenger, which came to this sum using the estimated 57.4 million people in the U.S. and Canada (ground zero for the NFL fandom) who play fantasy football, according to the Fantasy Sports Trade Association. The FTSA also estimates that 67% of those players (38.5 million people), work full time. And using U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data, the company estimated those players earn roughly $25.69 per hour, on average.

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If you assume that to be the case, each hour spent poring over matchups and obsessing over results costs employers in aggregate $898.1 million in lost or unproductive wages. And assuming each player spends an hour of work time each week fiddling with lineups every week of the regular season, the total would come to $16.8 billion.

That total lost-time figure is up from the $16 billion that Challenger predicted last year. Two years ago, the estimate was $13.4 billion. Regardless, that’s a lot of dough.

Still John Challenger, Challenger, Gray & Christmas’s chief executive officer, says this “lost time” is not necessarily all that lost. Unlike other time-sapping past times like say, Google @goog(GOOG)Search’s new Solitaire or Tic-tac-toe options or Facebook (FB) perusing, fantasy football sparks interaction, conversation, competition, maybe even collaboration. These are not the worst things to happen to a workplace.

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“Fantasy football can be a boost to a company’s bottom line in terms of higher morale and lower turnover,” Challenger said in a statement, adding that distractions can be a good thing because they can boost creativity. Employers might even want to encourage it at the office.

Mr. Challenger himself, according to the company, belongs to several fantasy football leagues —including one managed by an employee.

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