The Cost of March Madness to Employers: $13.8 Billion

The NCAA men’s college basketball tournament (aka, March Madness) starts Thursday, and it’s a sure thing that millions of Americans will be keeping at least one eye on the games. More than 40 million Americans are expected to fill out tournament brackets, and up to 34 million of those will be Americans who have jobs.

Researchers at outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas estimate that the productivity loss to employers totals $13.8 billion for the time their employees spend engaged with March Madness. That could be sneaking a peek at a live stream of a particular game or spending a few minutes checking and updating a bracket.

Andrew Challenger, senior vice president at the firm, said, “Employers should use this positive, shared experience to build much-needed morale for their workers. Most work teams are battling burnout right now, and a break from the pressure in the form of this tournament may help ease that burden.”

Although work time spent fiddling with brackets and sneaking a look at video involves costs to employers, Challenger believes it is money well-spent: “March Madness is back during a very difficult and uncertain year. Employers would be wise to get their teams involved in any excitement the games have to offer.”

Warren Buffett has revived Berkshire Hathaway’s $1 million March Madness bracket competition after the 2020 tournament was canceled. Berkshire pays $100,000 to the employee who picks the most correct winners before making an incorrect pick. An employee who picks all 32 first-round games correctly wins $1 million, and that prize is converted to a $1 million annuity for the rest of an employee’s life if all second-round winners are also selected.

Berkshire will double the prize if Creighton University, located in Buffett’s hometown of Omaha, Nebraska, makes it to the men’s Final Four. Creighton is seeded fifth in the West Region, the same region as tournament favorite Gonzaga.

According to PlayUSA analyst Eric Ramsey, this year’s March Madness will be the most heavily wagered sporting event in U.S. history. Ramsey told MarketWatch: “The popularity of the NCAA Tournament combined with such a high number of games typically makes March Madness the largest sports betting holiday each year in terms of handle, and there is no reason to suspect that won’t be the case this year.” PlayUSA expects March Madness to generate between $1.0 billion and $1.5 billion in legal wagers this year.

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