Add Fantasy Football to List of top Online Time-Wasters

For employers, the upcoming online NFL fantasy football season could create something of a gridiron quandary. While fantasy football will likely hit worker productivity as employees go online to check on their teams, blocking access could hit morale.

So what's an employer to do?

Just put up with it for most workers and go after anyone who seriously shirks work, said James Pedderson, a spokesman for Challenger, Gray & Christmas Inc., a Chicago-based outplacement business. "Every business has to look at it kind of on a case-by-case basis," Pedderson said, and if a particular worker's output drops because of fantasy football activity, then that worker can be dealt with individually.

According to the Challenger study, productivity losses nationwide can range between an estimated US$275 million and $435 million per week. Multiply that by the 17-week NFL season that begins Sept. 6 and productivity losses could be in the billions.

The lost productivity estimates are based on demographic data provided by online market research vendors comScore.com Inc. and Hitwise.com, which showed that the average annual income of the 13.6 million people who play fantasy football is between $60,000 to $100,000.

One sporting goods industry group, the Sporting Goods Marketing Association, recently reported that the average fantasy football participant spends about 45 minutes a day managing his teams, while a survey by West Virginia Wesleyan College found that 60 percent of fantasy sports fans spent more than an hour daily just thinking about their fantasy teams, according to Challenger's study.

"That is almost two hours a day devoted to fantasy football" for each worker, John Challenger, CEO of the outplacement business, said in a statement. "There are some people who probably wait until the workday is over to strategize, make trades and manage their teams, but many are probably doing at least some of their team tasks from the office."

On the other hand, he added, there are plenty of ways to be unproductive at work. "Every day, employers lose money by paying people to take smoking breaks, go to the bathroom, refill coffee mugs and make small talk around the water cooler," he said. "Most employers understand that not every minute of every workday is dedicated to work. In fact, in today's 24-7 global economy, it is likely that work bleeds into our personal lives. As a trade-off, employers should expect and allow workers' personal lives to seep into the workplace."

Ending the practice can result in even bigger problems, he said.

"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 to 20 minutes of online team management," he said. "Companies that not only allow workers to indulge in fantasy football but actually encourage it by organizing a company league are likely to see significant benefits."

In fact, a 2006 study on the topic by Paris-based market research firm Ipsos found that many employees said that fantasy sports provided a positive influence, created camaraderie in their workplaces, and even helped them develop a valuable business contact, according to the Challenger report.

Other sporting events such as the Super Bowl and the NCAA March Madness basketball tournament cause similar productivity problems for businesses as corporate network bandwidth is exceeded by employees accessing sports news online and by workers who watch games online while at work.

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