NCAA vs. Productivity: How the Tournament Puts Corporate Culture to the Test

It’s my favorite time of year again: March Madness. Each year, leading up to the NCAA tournament at the end of March, I begin signing up for various brackets and waging war against friends from “other” ACC conference schools, like North Carolina and Maryland. It’s all in good fun, of course, but what happens when the tournament goes on during work hours? There are enough distractions with Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, let alone the deluge of bracket discussion boards and live video feeds of the games – many of which run smack in the middle of the work day.

Initially, I thought only the most ardent NCAA fans were glued to sites like espn.com and cbssports.com for live-streaming games, but after reading some recent articles productivity and March Madness it looks like a much larger percentage of us are having trouble staying on task. According to a piece in the Boston Globe, this year experts are estimating that the total lost productivity, as a direct result of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament, will reach roughly $1.8 billion.

This number is staggering, but there’s some debate as to the validity of these stats. For example, Jack Shafer’s Slate article published in March 2006 predicted that the total loss of productivity during the tournament that year would reach $3.8 billion. Jack Shafer also wrote a similar piece in Slate in March 2009 as a follow-up piece, where he suggests that the $3.8 billion figure was a “loosey goosey at best. He also makes a good point that the company producing the stat (Challenger, Gray & Christmas) misjudged or underestimated several factors, such as the dedicated college hoops audience and the amount of “wasted time” built into every work day.

Therefore, most companies are already planning to have workers wasting a portion of their day with other tasks – many of which probably involve online shopping or social media. I’m not about to try to track every productivity stat on the Web, but what I thought might be helpful and give us at least an idea of the magnitude of avid NCAA tourney followers.

 

Again, it’s an imperfect science, but I thought a good place to start would be to identify which sites have some of the best brackets and live-streaming videos, then work from there. Taking this into consideration I chose to focus on espn.com, cbssports.com, ncaa.com, nbcsports.com and foxsports.com. After plugging these sites on www.compete.com, a Web analytics tool, and looking at the unique visitors (that’s individuals visiting each site) per month, I noticed that there was a considerable spike in site visits during late March 2009 – up considerably from 2008.

 Gd-compete-graph
 

*You can also view this graph on Compete.com at: yourself on Compete.com  

Judging strictly by this spike in Web traffic, FoxSports had over 9.9 million unique visitors (UVs) in March 2009, compared to 6.8 million in March 2008 (according to Compete.com). In fact, compared to last year, every single one of these sports sites increased the number of online visitors, the most impressive spike coming from CBS Sports, which went from just over 230,000 UVs in March 2008 to a whopping 8.4 million in March ‘09.

How does this factor into productivity then? Judging by the spike in traffic for these respective sites each March – and continued growth in the volume of visitors during this period – you could assume that there have to be more people checking these sites during work hours. There’s a lot of speculation here and, even though the jumps in site visits are substantial, it’s extremely difficult to say what percentage are college-aged kids, retirees, current employees, etc.

Yes, we can speculate about lost productivity and the cost to companies, but the truth is what’s the point? It’s clear that reliable stats for the March Madness/productivity discussion are hard to come by and many companies, the smart ones anyway, should understand that workers are going to take breaks and waste time doing non-work-related activities each day. It’s a fact.

So, as the games get underway on Thursday, companies shouldn’t fixate on lost revenues and time wated, but take the opportunity to bond with fellow coworkers and use the competitive spirit of the tournament to boost morale. After all, how many of you reading this now can honestly say you aren’t part of at least one online bracket or highlight? Point taken.

-Contributed by: Gretchen Doores   Follower her on Twitter: @canadiangal84