Maddening! More ways to catch the NCAA tourney could put a crimp on productivity

March Madness could cost companies nearly $4 billion as fans watch games during the workday.

As he takes it to the hoop is he taking you away from your expense report?

Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire/Corbis

The Madness will be inescapable for some college hoops fans.

About a third of American adults polled in a survey will have their eyes glued to NCAA action playing out on their phones and tablets this Thursday and Friday. Those distracted workers could cost employers $3.9 billion in lost productivity.

That's more than double last year's $1.9 billion in estimated losses, said Andy Challenger, vice president of Challenger, Gray & Christmas, which helps out-of-work people find jobs.

A separate survey of 1,000 adults conducted by KRC Research and Verizon Wireless found that 58 percent of millennials plan to watch a game on their phone or tablet, and 40 percent plan to use those devices to keep track of their brackets.

These figures highlight society's all-consuming interest in sports, fueled by constant Internet feeds and a reliance on mobile devices. Throw in sports-focused blogs, athletes with multiple social media accounts, and the nearly 57 million people playing fantasy sports, according to the Fantasy Sports Trade Association, and you get a round-the-clock sports obsession -- even attracting people who don't usually follow the action. Last year's NCAA tournament drew 11.3 million total viewers, according to Nielsen Fast Nationals, making it the most watched March Madness in 22 years.

Also last year, the March Madness Live app generated a record-setting 80.7 million video streams, according to NCAA.com.

"There's nothing comparable like it at this time of the year when you have hardcore and non-basketball fans all interested in the tournament," Challenger said. "It's struck a chord in our country's consciousness."

Consider the intense interest in workplaces across the US that has even non-hoops fans filling out brackets as they try to predict the outcome, whether for bragging rights or a chance to win the office pool.

Challenger's company reached its $3.9 billion figure after estimating nearly 51 million workers (earning an average hourly wage of $25.35 as calculated by the Bureau of Labor Statistics) will participate in an office pool. Workers will spend at least one hour filling out their brackets and another two hours watching streams of games on Thursday and Friday. All told, that will cost companies about $1.3 billion every hour.

Nearly half of those polled by KRC-Verizon survey said they will tune into the tournament. Of those, nearly 60 percent are men and 54 percent are between the ages of 18 and 33. The survey also revealed that millennials will spend nearly a third of their viewing time watching games streamed to their mobile devices.

"We are seeing a trend of increased activity, particularly among millennials," said Chloe Mullins, a KRC research director.

Challenger thinks employers should just go with flow by setting up viewing areas where workers can watch the games. That will boost morale and reduce data usage.

"Be a team player," he said.

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