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By Martha C. White
September 7, 2016

It’s almost fall, which means football season is about to literally and figuratively kick off. And according to new research from executive outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas, it also launches a nearly $17 billion productivity drain for American companies, thanks to the growing popularity of fantasy football and fans’ tendencies to devote workday time to prepping for their fantasy draft.

According to estimates, anywhere from 57 million to 75 million Americans participate in fantasy football. Roughly two-thirds of them also hold down jobs — jobs that can get pushed to the back burner when a fantasy draft deadline is looming.

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Challenger crunched the numbers and determined that, across the country, every hour those fans spend revising their draft picks, researching stats, or engaging in other fantasy football activities cost employers nearly $990 million collectively. Over the course of the year, that number piles up—just like the fantasy football stats your co-workers are poring over instead of doing their jobs—to the tune of $16.8 billion. That might even be on the low side, since Challenger, Gray & Christmas used a conservative estimate in its determination of how many people participate in fantasy football, and it assumed players only slack off for an hour a week at work.

Still, CEO John Challenger said it would be a mistake for companies to launch a crackdown on all of these virtual leagues; that is, if they could even identify the scofflaws, thanks to the always-on expectation in many fast-paced workplaces. “With more and more jobs in the service and information sectors, where mobile technology and high-speed internet access long ago blurred the lines between our personal and work lives, it is difficult to measure productivity in the traditional sense,” he said in a statement. So even if the guy in the next cube over is fiddling with his roster over the course of the day, there’s no way to tell if he’s making that time up later, fielding emails from the sidelines of his kids’ (real-life) football game, or addressing the concerns of a client several time zones away.

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Challenger also said that fantasy football can have a positive effect on the morale of workers who play it, giving them a little bit of short-term, well, fantasy escapism that can break up the monotony of what for many can feel like a perpetual workday. “These types of distractions can keep our creative juices flowing,” Challenger argued. “For these reasons, employers may not only want to avoid clamping down on fantasy football but may want to encourage it within the office,” he said.

What’s more, Challenger, Gray & Christmas also found that fantasy football’s net effect on the economy is actually positive: Because each player spends an average of a little over $550 a year in various league dues and membership fees, research costs and the like, the hobby pumps nearly $32 billion into the economy — almost twice the amount lost to workday fantasy football distractions.

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