– October 31, 2014

Some employers embrace, encourage March Madness

Pitting salespersons against each other in a bracket format, placing a television in the food court and openly watching the games as a group are all part of the tactics local managers utilize to make sure March Madness is an opportunity instead of a distraction.

Every year, research firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas, Inc. releases a study reflecting dollar impact nationwide of employees viewing the NCAA Men’s Basketball National Championship tournament through online streaming services instead of working. Last year that estimate was $175 million. 

The Fresno Grizzlies minor league baseball club turns March Madness into a revenue builder by openly encouraging competition amongst its inside sales staff by creating a March Madness bracket of its 15-20 ticket account executives. 

“Let’s face it we all check our phones for results and this way we actually get business results from March Madness,” said Chris Kutz, Grizzlies’ media relations coordinator.

The employees advance by bringing in more revenue from season tickets sales than their opponent in that given period of time.

Just like the basketball tournament, the club seeds its salespersons and the insanity of upsets is bound to happen every year.

Not only do the Grizzlies’ employees fill out their brackets for the action on the court, but the action in the office.

“Its fun because some of them will get offended if you don’t pick them and they feel they have to prove their worth against people that doubted them,” Kutz said.

Kutz said his pick for the sales champion is Chris Cox and he’d like to see Miami win on the court.

For Zach Navo, owner of Navo Financial, Inc. in Visalia, his solution is simple — he just watches the games with his staff on the TV in his office.

“It’s an insurance office — it gets monotonous if you don’t keep it active,” Navo said.

Many of his employees are big sports fans, so March is an exciting time of year.

“Everyone loves to watch it and everyone has their team and we talk the smack to each other,” Navo said.

Moe Bagunu, the general manager of the Manchester Center in Fresno, said he hasn’t seen the tournament become a detriment to the mall’s productivity, but in the past he’s used the distraction to lure costumers in.

Previously, when Bagunu managed the Arden Fair in Sacramento, he had a big screen television placed in the food court for the customers to watch. The staff would also update a large bracket as soon as the games were completed.

 “It was great because while the wives were shopping, the guys would hang out in the food court and watch the games,” Bagunu said.

Revered sports business columnist Daren Rovell questioned the authenticity of the study by Challenger, Gray & Christmas, Inc. in 2011 in an article for CNBC (now he is employed by ESPN).

“The horrible assumption that the firm makes is that it assumes that every minute we are ‘working,’ we are productive, which of course is not true,” Rovell wrote. “Every day is filled with moments that we are doing something that our employers technically might not be paying us for.”

Although not directly mentioning Rovel, last year the research firm essentially responded by saying “lighten up.”

“Statisticians, economists, academia and college basketball fans will likely scoff at that estimate, and rightfully so,” said John A. Challenger, chief executive officer of Challenger, Gray & Christmas, in the annual report. “It is to be taken with a grain of salt, as it is meant to be a tongue-in-cheek look at how technology continues to blur the line between our professional and personal lives.”

However he also insisted there is value in the study for both employees and employers.

“It’s an opportunity to remind workers that practicing some moderation in their March Madness viewing will go a long way toward keeping managers off their back,” Challenger said. “Meanwhile, it is equally important for employers to cut workers some slack, particularly in an economy that has left many workplaces understaffed and overworked.”

For the entire tournament, an average of 1.1 million viewers logged on to watch online broadcast every day last year, which was a 10 percent decrease from the year before. About 473,000 of those viewers are using a mobile device.


This story was originally published in the March 8 print edition of The Business Journal. Don't get your news a week late. Subscribe today.

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