- The Washington Times - Friday, August 18, 2006

Companies could lose nearly $20 billion in productivity this year, simply because of worker involvement in fantasy football leagues.

Challenger, Gray & Christmas, Inc., a Chicago-based employment consultant, said workers will spend an average of 10 minutes each workday updating their fantasy football teams, performing related research or chatting with fellow league members. The group said the resulting loss of productivity could represent $1.1 billion a week over the course of the National Football League’s 17-week season. And fantasy sports participants said 10 minutes is a bit on the conservative side.

‘It is a time vampire,” said Dave Wiseman, a graphics designer from Taylorstown, Va., and co-founder of the 12-member Yellow Boot league. “I can’t imagine anyone doing this in 10 minutes. Half of it is research and half of it is trash talk. If you don’t want to be trashed by these guys in your league, you have to do the research.”

Fantasy football leagues are commonly run online and are often intensely competitive, with participants looking to gain an edge by constantly surfing the Internet to get the latest news on everything from Clinton Portis’ injury to the starting defense of the Carolina Panthers. The leagues, which usually feature interactive message boards, also offer a social outlet and a way for long-distance friends to keep in touch.

“The number of fantasy sports enthusiasts is growing each year, and with the majority of players spending at least an hour each day thinking about their teams and five hours each week managing their rosters, the toll on workplace productivity is mounting,” Challenger, Gray & Christmas said in a statement.

Members of the Yellow Boot league normally spend an hour a day on fantasy football.

“If I have down-time or [are] not under the gun, it wouldn’t be uncommon to spend an entire lunch hour on the game a couple days during the week,” said John, a Yellow Boot member who works for a public relations firm in Virginia, and asked that his last name not be used. “But, I can honestly say it’s never gotten in the way of my work and my own professional performance.”

The cost of fantasy football on businesses is similar to that of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament in March, which Challenger estimated would cost employers $3.8 billion over 16 days. The group also reported that hype over this year’s Super Bowl was estimated to cost $780 million in lost productivity in the week leading up to the big game.

In calculating the impact of fantasy football, Challenger determined that the average participant earns about $76,000 a year, or $6 every 10 minutes. Challenger assumed that 36.8 million people play fantasy sports.

Many companies have prevented access to online fantasy leagues by placing restrictions on what Web pages employees can access. But Challenger said companies would be best off leaving workers alone, because restrictions can deflate morale.

“Employers should avoid squashing employees’ brief participation in fantasy football during work hours,” said John Challenger, the chief executive officer of Challenger, Gray & Christmas. “The potential damage to morale and loyalty resulting from a fantasy football ban could be far worse than the loss of productivity caused by 10 minutes of online team management.”

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