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'March Madness' Runs Rampant in American Offices


If people at work in the United States, especially sports fans, seem a bit distracted these days it might just be a symptom of "March Madness," the nickname for the hugely popular NCAA men's college basketball national championship tournament.

Wider coverage of the single-elimination tournament on the Internet is just one reason for the expanding interest in March Madness. This year, as many as 45 percent of Americans polled say they will enter at least one college basketball pool. Fans fill out brackets to pick the winners in the four 16-team regions of the country.

Last year, up to 37 million Americans paid money to join bracket pools. Jason Kint, senior vice president and general manager of CBSSports.com, says die-hard fans and novices alike try to predict the winners.

"You know, that's the fun part of the NCAA tournament, its unique aspect. And it draws in a much more, a broader audience, a lot of casual fans. At some point throughout the tournament they are rooting on the teams that they have picked to make it through. But we promote just friendly fun and competition," he said.

Each correct prediction is worth a set number of points, with the value for correct picks increasing in each successive round.

The 64 teams in the tournament are whittled down to the so-called "Sweet-16," "Elite Eight" and "Final-Four." Those four teams meet in the semifinals in Detroit, Michigan for the right to advance to the championship game on April 6.

But what are the odds of filling out that perfect bracket? R.J. Bell of Pregame.com says the number of possibilities to guarantee a perfect bracket are an astronomical 9.2 quintillion.

"There's actually 18 zeros in a quintillion. There's a couple of ways I've attempted to quantify that. For example, if one bracket a second was filled out, it would take 292 trillion years to fill out all possible brackets," he said.

And if all of the possible brackets were filled out on standard paper and stacked on top of each other, how big would the pile be? "It would actually go from the earth to the moon and back, 1.1 million times," he said.

The games are televised nationally, but the Internet audience is rapidly growing. Jason Kint continues to see huge growth in CBSSports.com's March Madness On Demand feature, which allows free viewing of all the games in high-quality live streaming video.

"We had 165 percent growth in audience last year and now we are up 60 percent year-over-year this year," he said.

Although the legality of office betting pools varies from state to state, experts estimate that billions of dollars are wagered on the tournament. But some employers frown on workers taking time away from their jobs to follow the games and keep track of their brackets.

For that, Kint says March Madness On Demand has developed "the boss button."

"It been a very popular feature over the years and this year over 2.5 million people have now clicked on that button. You click on it, it turns the entire [video] player into a spreadsheet. It does give you a chance to shut down the player pretty quickly if the need arises."

Workers generally spend about 90 minutes a week on the pool, and studies say that reduces productivity. But R.J. Bell says smart businesses embrace March Madness.

"To me, that incremental loss of productivity may be well worth it for the team-building elements of the social connections. Innovative companies spend big money on team-building and they spend much more, most likely, than is going to be lost for those few days in the few hours that are spent on the brackets," he said.

And that higher morale can translate into even greater productivity. At least after the tournament is over.

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