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March Madness: Good For Fans, Bad For Business

Pittsburgh fans try to distract Wichita State's Ron Baker as he shoots a free throw during a second-round game in the NCAA college basketball tournament in Salt Lake City on Thursday. The distractions of the tournament are so great that worker productivity is sliding.

Pittsburgh fans try to distract Wichita State's Ron Baker as he shoots a free throw during a second-round game in the NCAA college basketball tournament in Salt Lake City on Thursday. The distractions of the tournament are so great that worker productivity suffers.

Audio

Aired 3/23/13

Audio

Aired 3/23/13

March Madness is here. Even President Obama has filled out a NCAA Division I men's college basketball tournament bracket. His pick to win it all was Indiana University.

The bracket frenzy is unbelievable, says Deborah Stroman, who teaches sports administration at the University of North Carolina.

"Right after the selection show for the teams," she says, "within three hours, at least 693,000 brackets were filled out. So you can imagine everything that was taking place -- everything from the research, to calling your friends, to placing bets."

But there is a cost. A recent study estimated the springtime mania costs American companies at least $134 million in the first two days alone. Fans all over the country know why: The games are simply too distracting.

Lucas Lux, a University of Kansas fan, told NPR, "If Kansas played at 12:15 p.m., there's no way I could work, and at that point it would probably have to be a vacation day."

But many employees try to multitask instead. Jerry Webber, the owner of a record shop in Pittsburgh, explained that at his shop they would watch the games during the workday. "Sometimes we drink beer and have a little bottle of bourbon and take a shot too," he said. "It's the illusion of working."

Stroman says the loss of worker productivity during March Madness has a lot to do with psychological investment in the games. "You have people who actually become so engaged with their teams that they take on the ownership of that team," she tells weekends on All Things Considered guest host Don Gonyea.

She calls that effect, "basking in reflected glory," or "BIRG-ing." She says it can distract employees from their work for days or even weeks after a big win.

The opposite effect, she says, is called "cutting of reflected failure," or "CORF-ing," which is when a loss provokes depression in die-hard fans. This, too, distracts workers from their jobs.

But, Stroman says, there is a silver lining for employers. Some employees will turn only part of their attention to games during the workday, and others will likely come in early or stay late to make up for those distracted hours.

Some fans even say a win could make them better employees in the long run. Lux says March Madness is actually good for his productivity, but only if the University of Kansas wins.

"Especially if Kansas goes far in the tournament, I'll be stoked for the next 12 months," he says. After the team's win Friday night, he's BIRGing -- at least for now.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit www.npr.org.

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