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CNBC's Rovell: March Madness a Huge Business at the Office

The office pool may seem like a quaint pasttime. But during March Madness, it's a huge business--at least $3 billion worth, says CNBC’s Darren Rovell.

Some 79% of employees participate in office pools, Rovell reports. But according to career publisher Vault, the biggest one of all is the NCAA's men's basketball championship, which is held in a frenzy of games during the last few weeks of March--hence the term "March Madness."

The betting on March Madness is done through so-called brackets. During each round of the tournament, players bet on the outcome of every game. As the tournament advances, new bets are placed on the surviving teams. The bettor with the best record wins.

More than half of those surveyed by Vault say they fork over just $5 to fill out the brackets, while only 2% say they spend more than $50. Some pools are rumored to have five- and six-figure entry fees and prize money, Rovell says.

The full bracket of 65 teams playing in the tournament is announced on Sunday night, and the first official round of play kicks off on Thursday. That means brackets should hit offices Monday.

Millions Participate

Millions of American workers will participate in the madness, by entering pools or researching team and game information online. Hard-core fans will watch live streaming video on their computers of the first 56 games, many of which are played during the day.

Much of the excitement comes from the quintessential Cinderella story, whether it’s the long-shot, underdog team who wins the “Big Dance” or the employee who never follows sports yet bests the fanatics in the office pool.

The odds of filling out a perfect bracket are something like 9 billion, billion to one, Rovell says.

All this madness is expected to cost employers at least $1.2 billion in lost productivity over the course of the 19-day event. The first two days of the event alone could cost up to $260 million in wages paid to unproductive workers, according to a survey by global outplacement consultancy Challenger, Gray & Christmas.

Employers Accept Pools

But despite the potential costs, 94% of companies surveyed have accepted the madness, with many finding creative ways to offset the impact or use the tournament to boost morale and comraderie.

“By allowing workers to watch the games on a centrally located television, for example, employers could at least keep fewer workers from accessing live streaming video at their desks,” said John A. Challenger, CEO of Challenger, Gray & Christmas, in a news release.

“One of the companies we surveyed allowed workers to wear their favorite team’s apparel for a small fee, which was then donated to a local charity. Another holds an office pool, with the top four going to lunch and the overall winner receiving a gift certificate,” Challenger added.

CNBC will be doing its part to keep workers focused on business by continually updating scores on its ticker throughout the day. CNBC.com will also be updating scores.

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