Is Fantasy Football a business nightmare?

9:48 PM, Sep 18, 2006   |    comments
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It may not be the same as football cleats clattering down a stadium tunnel, but on an August evening in St. Anthony, the creak of basement stair-steps under the weight of visitor after visitor carries the same anticipation. "This is the night," said homeowner Brenda Yaritz as she ripped open a bag of chips. Mary Raasch added wings to a table filling with food and quipped, "Half the fun is the food." In the basement, on this evening, Thanksgiving seems to have arrived early. But after all, the folks here are truly thankful. Two guests hug, exchange greetings, and then one says "You're in for another losing year." That rite of fall Fantasy Football is back. It's draft night and commissioner of the so-called CEEFFL proclaims "Okay, we're starting our draft." Soon names start flying. "Shaun Alexander !" Another yelled "I'm picking Larry Johnson." "I'll go with Steven Jackson," said Jim Hasnik. Amy Larson claimed, "Cadillac Williams." Finally, lastly, it's the host's turn. Brenda Yaritz painfully declared, "Now I get stuck with the crap backs." This league known as the CEEFFL makes for a lively draft, and with good reason. Yaritz noted, "We like each other out of work." The CEEFFL has its roots in the Warehouse District of downtown Minneapolis. In a building with sports stadium-like arches, The Center for Energy and Environment does business, and some of its employees love Fantasy Football. Hence, those employees formed the Center for Energy and Environment Fantasy Football League or the CEEFFL. "Both of you need to sign on it," Brenda Yaritz said to a client on the phone. This conversation takes place earlier in the day, before the CEEFFL draft. But you can feel the excitement building, long before it filled Brenda's basement later in the evening. When time permits, Yaritz sneaks a peak on-line at Fanball.com in preparation for the draft. Yaritz estimated she spent "10, 15 minutes" on the site on draft day. In the last hours before the draft, throughout this office hash-marked by cubicles, it's easy to find Fantasy Football fever. In front of his computer, Jim Hasnik suspects he'll end up drafting Steven Jackson or Edgerrin James with his first pick. He guessed on this draft day, Fantasy Football had gotten his attention for "Only about a half hour, probably." Across from Hasnik is the cubicle of Amy Larson who used another website for research. She knows the Fantasy Football fever will last, to some degree, the entire season. "Probably once a day in the morning, not always. But every Tuesday morning for sure," she said when asked how often she visits her site of choice. Brenda Yaritz proudly showed off the plaque that displays her championship from last season and said, "They're all jealous of this." Hasnik chimed in, "Yea, I gave her the championship last year." It is all a lot of fun, and the Fantasy Football checks and banter offer occasional time-outs in the office. But a recent report from the outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas estimated just ten minutes, per participant, per day could cost American businesses anywhere from $500 million to $1.1 billion per week. At the Center for Energy and Environment, President Sheldon Strom noted, "People aren't spending every waking minute working, even if they pretend to." He believes Fantasy Football is okay within reason, and he's not so sure about the costs. "So it's either, it costs you one billion a week in lost wages, or saves you a billion a week because everybody's so productive, because they're so happy," Strom said. At Minneapolis-based Fanball.com, which is the largest website of its kind, they offer advice, run leagues and of course, "We're getting paid to do Fantasy Football, which is a great thing," said Executive Editor John Tuvey. Publisher Paul Charchian added, "They better check on their own fantasy league." Charchian knows some businesses already flag Fantasy Football. "Our site, Fanball.com, is blocked by a lot of offices," he said. Still he disputes the report that says Fantasy Football could cost $1.1 billion per week. "Human beings take breaks at work. They're going to take a break anyway, so why not do something that is effectively team-building and social bonding in your workplace?" said Charchian. At the University of Saint Thomas, the mixture of Fantasy Football and business gets mixed reviews. Professor of Business Law Dawn Swink said, "I think the numbers are low. I think that many people are under-reporting the amount of time that they're spending." In fact she believes the cost could be closer to $2 billion. But Psychology Professor John Tauer sees benefits for employees. "I may not have much control in my company, but I do decide who gets to play on Sunday. And so to the extent that companies could foster not only that camaraderie, but also a sense of control in their employees and autonomy, I think that would be really beneficial," said Tauer. Back in that St. Anthony basement on that August evening, Jim Hasnik declared, "Oh, I've got this wrapped up already." Here they say work wins. As Amy Larson sees it, "It's kind of an opportunity to talk trash on your co-workers. It's something to look forward to on a Monday morning. That's kind of nice." Still, work will lose one employee, for one day, after this draft. For Brenda Yaritz, "It's a holiday (ha, ha)." By Greg Vandegrift, KARE 11 News.

(Copyright 2006 by KARE 11. All Rights Reserved.)

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