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Let the fantasy sports games begin--at work

Fantasy sports are a big draw for Web companies and a workplace diversion.

Deepak Jayaraman, an attorney from Boston, is a die-hard Dallas Cowboys fan who rabidly follows the weekly performance of running back Clinton Portis.

The problem is, Portis plays for division rival Washington Redskins. Why the conflict? The stud running back was Jayaraman's first pick in his fantasy football draft, and could be his main weapon for taunting rights against the 11 other buddies in his "Asian-Caucasian" league, now in its seventh year.

"You always want to beat your best friends, prove you are the smartest, and give someone a call on Sunday afternoon after beating them," he said.


What's new:
Once a pursuit of number nerds and the statistically obsessed, fantasy sports have burst into the mainstream and are a big draw for Web companies.

Bottom line:
The popular diversion could cost businesses money as more workers take time out of their workday to play fantasy sports.

More stories on this topic

'Tis the season for fantasy sports. The last few months of the baseball season and the return of the National Football League has brought the annual perfect storm for the fantasy business. Companies tapping the trend beneficiaries are a laundry list of Internet and media giants, including America Online, Yahoo, Microsoft's MSN, ESPN,, Electronic Arts, Fox Sports and DirecTV, and a smattering of smaller sites.

Fantasy participants draft real-life athletes to create their teams. Each team is scored based on actual statistics, and two teams face off to see who gets the most points. Most players put money into a pool, which is then awarded to the top few finishers at the end of the season.

While it's unclear how big online fantasy sports have become, Web sites claim their fantasy users typically tend to pay money to subscribe to leagues and get additional perks. People who play fantasy sports also are more inclined to open their wallets to draft magazines, sports paraphernalia, and tickets to live games. That's not to mention gluing themselves to their TV sets and computers in their relentless pursuit of statistics.

The obsession has its merits for the Web sites. Between October 2003 and May 2004, 7 million Americans visited on average 200 fantasy sports Web pages per person per month, according to online measurement firm ComScore Media Metrix. Standard sports visits turned 107 pages, entertainment 148 pages, and news sites only 75 pages a month.

Once a pursuit of number nerds and the statistically obsessed, fantasy sports have burst into the mainstream largely because of the Internet. Before the Web, fantasy players would gather after work and pour through daily papers and sports magazines to compile their scores. But now the Internet does all the grunt work in real time.

Every year there are more fantasy players and greater revenue derived from the pursuit. Web sites such as SportsLine, Yahoo and ESPN let people set up leagues for free, but also charge more than $100 to set up groups with more bells and whistles.

Most companies do not break out their fantasy sports revenue, but most hint that the business continues to grow. As one indicator, SportsLine last quarter reported its subscription revenue, mostly from fantasy leagues, grew 40 percent from the previous period in 2003 to $1.8 million. For 2003, this revenue jumped 34 percent from 2002 to $15.9 million.

The business has prompted other giants to step into the field. In August, AOL launched its own fantasy league manager to its members. It uses to power the service.

Electronic Arts, which produces the popular Madden NFL line of football video games, this year began offering a league on its Web site. The launch is not surprising given its dedicated audience of gamers and the potential crossover online.

"It's a really ripe potential as you look at next-generation systems, more consoles, and more people getting online," EA spokeswoman Trudy Muller said. "The potential for integration is there."

Pastime or problem?
Whether casual participants or compulsive players, the time that workers invest in fantasy sports may have grave consequences for corporations.

Earlier this month, executive search firm estimated that nationwide workplace fantasy football consumption costs $36.7 million for every 10 minutes of worktime spent on fantasy football activities in lost productivity. The figure takes the 14 million fantasy football players and assumes each player makes the national average $15.70 an hour and spends 10 minutes a day on sports sites.

While 10 minutes is a drop in the bucket in a typical workday, the executive search firm said nonproductive time related to fantasy sports adds up for companies.

"It goes above and beyond typical water cooler chat," said James Pedderson, a Challenger Gray & Christmas spokesman and an avid New York Giants fan who refuses to play fantasy football despite numerous invitations.

Some software companies are responding to this trend. According to Internet monitoring firm , some clients have inquired about ways to curb the fantasy sports obsession in the workplace.

"The complaints come in around August and September when people are joining leagues, when (managers) walk by employees and see employees on these sites," said Matt Carey, a regional sales manager at Stellar.

The company produces software that lets IT managers filter or block sites based on keywords and forbidden addresses.

But don't group attorney Jayaraman as part of the problem, or so he claims. He does not consider his fantasy consumption a sidetrack to his productivity in the office. It's just a weekend obsession.

"It doesn't suck up more time at work than any other leisurely pursuit like buying stuff on the Internet or reading The Wall Street Journal at work," he said. "I'm good about compartmentalizing it."