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Associated Press/Photo by Jae C. Hong

Work party

Sports | Employers stand to be the biggest losers in March Madness

Issue: "The schools that Arne built," April 11, 2009

Not everyone was thrilled that President Barack Obama carved out 20 minutes from his dizzying schedule to fill out an NCAA basketball bracket with ESPN analyst Andy Katz. Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski wondered if the exercise was the best use of the president's time: "Somebody said that we're not in President Obama's Final Four, and as much as I respect what he's doing, really, the economy is something that he should focus on, probably more than the brackets."

Of course, the First Fan's momentary interlude likely had little impact on the more pressing matters of his job. Nor is his scoreboard watching throughout March Madness likely to diminish his job performance.

But collectively for employees around the country, the lure of office pools and midday tip-offs can significantly detract from productivity. According to the consulting firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas, between 25 million and 37 million Americans participated in an NCAA Tournament betting pool last year, many taking timeouts at work to follow games and check brackets. The firm estimates the annual financial loss from such breaks approaches $2 billion.

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And this year could prove the worst ever with games now offered in streaming high-definition over the internet. Challenger, Gray & Christmas have based past calculations on the supposition that the average worker wastes 13.5 minutes for each check of scores or bracket update. That number could climb markedly if employees elect to view complete games.

Some companies have even expressed concern that widespread use of computers to stream live action could consume enough bandwidth to lock up their office networks. But for bosses seeking to limit March Madness viewership, cubical patrolling could prove difficult; the CBS-operated web streams include a "boss button," which immediately converts a computer's video viewer to an innocent-looking spreadsheet.

Having a ball

Comedian Drew Carey, who replaced Bob Barker as host of the daytime game show The Price Is Right, is now out to reshape another mainstay in the entertainment world: the sports franchise. Carey has purchased part ownership in the Seattle Sounders, a new Major League Soccer team that opened its inaugural season March 19.

The former sitcom star was on hand for the season opener, celebrating alongside a marching band that led a crowd of fans across town to the Sounders' home stadium. The idea for that celebratory procession was a collaborative effort: Carey dreamed up the band; the fans called for the cross-city march.

Such decision-making power for the Sounders faithful will extend much further as the young franchise moves forward. Fan representatives already vetoed a proposed change to the team name. And Carey has granted them the authority to vote out the team's general manager every four years, an idea borrowed from Spanish soccer clubs.

So far the idea is working, inspiring fan interest to the tune of 22,000 season tickets sold, making the Sounders the most successful expansion launch in the 14-year history of MLS. That alone might well inspire other owners to consider adopting the practice. But Carey says the real draw is "that the fans will do your dirty work for you."

Sporting pick

President Barack Obama's connection to the sporting world deepened further on St. Patrick's Day when he nominated Pittsburgh Steelers owner Dan Rooney as U.S. ambassador to Ireland. In 1976 Rooney co-founded the American Ireland Fund, which has raised some $300 million for education and peace efforts in the island nation.

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