The Very Real Cost of Fantasy Football: $6.5 Billion
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The Fiscal Times
August 30, 2012

The NFL season kicks off next Wednesday night, and millions of fans have been getting ready for some football, spending hours poring over team rosters and player stats in preparation for their fantasy league drafts. And as outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas pointed out in a press release today, some of that player research time has undoubtedly been spent during business hours, with more productivity still to be lost once the regular season begins.

The cost of those lost hours could be as high as $6.5 billion, using what Challenger, Gray & Christmas calls “a very rough, non-scientific, non-verifiable estimate.” That tabulation is based on some 22.3 million employees fumbling away an hour each week – a conservative estimate, the company says – in picking players and setting lineups over the course of the 15-week fantasy season. Multiplying that time spent by the average hourly earnings of American workers – $19.33, as of the second quarter of the year – brings the weekly cost to $430.9 million, or $6.46 billion over the course of the season.

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But lest bosses across the country quash their workers’ championship dreams, John Challenger, the CEO of the outplacement company put the productivity loss in some perspective: “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,” Challenger said in a statement. “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.”

Office workers must juggle multiple tasks – and the ever-present temptation of the Internet – as it is, so fantasy football may not be much different than any other potential distraction. And a crackdown on fantasy sports could have even worse consequences, like reduced morale and employee loyalty, which could be even more costly than the time lost managing football teams, Challenger noted. “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 his release. “In the long run, this may lead to increased employee retention.”

At least that’s what you can tell your boss when he or she catches you researching that rookie wide receiver.

Executive Editor Yuval Rosenberg oversees coverage of business, the economy, technology and Wall Street. A former web editor at WNYC, Fortune and Newsweek, he also writes on a wide range of subjects.