Fantasy Football Leagues in the Workplace?

by Linsey Knerl on 29 August 2008 5 comments

It’s that time again. Football fans are gearing up for the excitement of a new season. The rest of the world is prepping for how to deal with it. And Football Fantasy Leagues are popping up everywhere – including at work. But is it a good idea?

Before I even get started, is there anyone out there who doesn’t know what Fantasy Football is? (Buehller?) It works like this:

Ordinary, everyday folks (usually in the office) become managers of their own imaginary, made-up football teams. They can recruit for the players of their choosing (using various methods for offense and defense) from among all the real-life players from either a college or pro season. (Trades can also be made during the season). As the season goes on, new picks can be made weekly, or they can choose to keep the same players. Points are given for achievements on the field, and are tallied through the end of the season. The manager with the most points for his/her team at the end of the season wins the Championship. (For more details on how it works and where to get started, check the Wiki page.)

Is it Gambling? Maybe. If it’s done purely for fun, no money-exchanged, it’s not gambling. If money is used as a condition of joining, then I consider it a “membership fee.” If bets are made on the outcome, then you might put it into the gambling category. Most people that participate in Fantasy Football Leagues within the workplace know what is considered acceptable, and what isn’t. Just follow along, and you’ll probably be OK.

So what’s the big deal? It’s actually a very big deal for many. By combining football with cash (which is often used as prizes or exchanged when drafting new players) the excitement can become too much for a workplace. A 2004 San Francisco Chronicle piece estimated that Fantasy Football Leagues cost businesses $36.7 million daily in loss of productivity. (With personal internet use already common in workplaces, is this really much different than excessively checking emails, viewing YouTube, or shopping on Ebay?) A slightly more recent USA Today article claims that Fantasy Football Leaguers spend an average of 34 minutes a day just thinking about their teams, and other sources have claimed over an hour of time per employee is spent dreaming about their teams (time that could have just as easily been spent scheming ways to kill your boss.)

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Are there any advantages? Supporters of Fantasy Football in the workplace offer some unique solutions to keeping the leagues in the office. CNBC’s Darren Rovell weighed the benefits of using league time as an effective networking tool. While not totally convinced of its merit for bringing top execs together with the bottom-rung working class, he does explore the possibility.

As Fantasy Football invades the workplace, many employers are taking a no-tolerance approach to the seasonal ritual. Citing Fantasy Football as a form of gambling, they often include language in their employee handbooks which prohibit the game. Not all HR advocates agree on this approach, however. Many offices (22%) are more likely to ban Social Networking activity, such as Facebook and MySpace. The morale boosting capabilities of Fantasy Football can sometimes work in favor of employers. After all, some people need more than a paycheck to look forward to each day (and it’s got to be better than surfing NSFW sites or harassing their cubicle buddy.)

A workplace’s attitude toward Fantasy Football may depend entirely on what the higher-ups feel about football in general – fans seem to allow it more often than those who despise football. In largely female workplaces where football interest may be milder, you may be more likely to find Oscar Picks Pools or wagers on when the new secretary’s baby will be born. Although I’m not discounting the possibility of an all-female workplace Football Fantasy League (it has happened, I’m sure.)

What do you think? Does your work allow Fantasy Football? Do you wish they would? Do you even care? Let’s hear what you have to say!

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Guest's picture

It's strange that the law offices I've worked in (and many others that my friends have worked in) don't allow it when they seem to give the green light on pooling for lottery tickets! I've never participated b/c I really don't get any pleasure from losing my cash or the good-natured ribbing of constantly being told how my team's "going down!," but I always enjoyed the excitement and happiness of those who did love it. Anything that was a change of pace in those dreary workplaces was much appreciated, and it was awesome when one time a woman who didn't know anything about football won the entire pool! : )

Guest's picture
Kate

I work in a very small office (5 people) and my boss is an avid fantasy league player of football and baseball, usually with many leagues going simultaneously. Yes, it does keep him in touch with old colleagues so I guess it's networking on some level, but most importantly, it makes him far less likely to give his employees a hard time about reading blogs and watching online videos at work. As long as we're still getting our work done, everyone's fine with it.

Andrea Karim's picture

But I find the idea fascinating. Mind you, as another comment pointed out, it's interesting the gambling is frowned upon byt the lottery is encouraged.

It sounds like a fun hobby - I'd participate if I had any interest in sports at all.

Guest's picture
Randy

...I used to work at a company where it was common. I don't know if any money changed hands, but the players were all internal to the company; and it was viewed as a means by which people could network and socialize.

Linsey Knerl's picture

forbade it.  They considered it gambling (even if no money was exchanged.)  They also didn't allow you to try to sell your kid's girl scout cookies.  Go figure.