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March Madness: Will Worker Productivity Suffer During NCAA Tournament?

(CBS Chicago) -- The NCAA Tournament is usually spread throughout the country, with games set in the East, Midwest, South and West. This year, because of COVID and the risks of traveling, all games will be held in Indiana. It will be the first time that the entire event will take place in one state. The region names will still be used to distinguish one part of the bracket from another.

While the teams will all be playing in Indiana, fans will be watching from wherever they happen to live. And in what are hopefully the waning days of the pandemic, where they live may just be where they work too.

March Madness has always been a time of decreased worker productivity. According to a WalletHub survey, the average employee will spend six hours watching college basketball over the next few weeks. Some of that time will likely come during the workday.

This problem is nothing new. College basketball fans who hold down day jobs have long since figured out how to discretely follow games on their computers or phones while working. Before technology became an unwitting accomplice, those same fans might have stretched out lunch hours to catch more of the action at a nearby sports bar. This year many watchers won't even have to sneak around. With access at their fingertips and bosses stranded in their own homes, fans will have an easy time watching as much of this year's NCAA Tournament as they want.

All that's holding them back is their own reservations. Calling in sick is always an option. More than half of those millennials surveyed are even okay with missing a work deadline in order to not miss a game. Corporations stand to lose an estimated $13.3 billion due to unproductive workers during the tournament, according to a recent WalletHub study.

Indianapolis and its local businesses stand to profit, however. The city is hosting the majority of the tournament's games. And despite the ongoing COVID pandemic and accompanying restrictions, the area is expected to attract an estimated 20,000 college basketball fans in the coming weeks. That could result in an additional $100 million, at a time when the local economy could use the boost.

The continued rise of the sports gambling industry could bolster state economies across the country, at least where sports gambling is legal. More and more states are legalizing it, and they're hoping those tax dollars will fill some of the giant COVID-size hole in their budgets. An estimated $8.5 billion was wagered on March Madness games in 2019. The Tournament attracts twice as much in betting dollars as the Super Bowl. Almost as many people fill out tournament brackets as vote in the presidential election.

With all these available distractions, it's no wonder worker productivity takes a hit this time of year. It will be amazing if anything gets done during the first NCAA Tournament in two years, with many college basketball fans stranded at home.

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