The Best and Worst Case Scenarios for Productivity after the World Cup

Football fans in yellow jerseys at a pub enjoying a football match.

If you’ve been reading about the World Cup’s effect on productivity, then you must realize at this point there’s a bit of a disagreement about the effects it has actually had. Some say it’s costing the economy millions upon billions of dollars. Others say that’s about as silly as pigs growing wings and flying.

But how much did it actually cost?

It’s difficult to say, since productivity is nearly impossible to accurately measure on such a grand scale. I think a good starting point is to examine different estimates given by different websites. Let’s start with the dooms day theorists and slowly work our way down to non-believers:

From research, I’ve seen a few numbers thrown around anywhere from $0 dollars to $700 billion lost from the World Cup in the USA alone.  Now I’m going to go ahead and disregard the $700 billion dollar estimate. The figure quoted for Brazil’s losses are about $11 million in productivity, and Brazil is a soccer crazed country that is hosting the World Cup. Not to mention the fact that they’ll be too busy crying about the game against Germany to work.

So there is no way the productivity losses in the US will be more than those in Brazil. The highest estimate I saw that had some reasonable explanation was $1.68 billion from Captivate Network. There are some people taking this as fact, and to them I would say be careful. Let’s examine the number, shall we?

First of all this is how they claim to have come up with this number,

“Based on the average salary of employed adults and the typical viewing time at work during the World Cup over the past two weeks,”

There are approximately 314 million people in the United States right now. So assuming a perfectly communist society where men, women, children, executives, astronauts, etc are worth the same amount of money that is $5.35 dollars lost in productivity per person.

Let’s be a little less extreme and more realistic shall we? A quick Google shows that the workforce in the United States is 154.9 million as of 2010. Now that number (1.68 billion spread equally over the workforce) says we lose about $10.80 per working person, which is still a believable amount.

But hold on, not everyone who works is going to be watching the World Cup during work. Now Captivate networks, the same company who came up with 1.68 billion, conducted another informal poll and has decided that,

 “Over 50 percent of working professionals watched or listened to the World Cup matches at work this year.”

Some quick mental math (half the workforce so it must double the losses per person) indicates that the losses are really about $21.60 dollars per working person who watches the World Cup.

But wait there’s more! Since when does listening to the radio qualify as being completely unproductive? Since when is everyone’s time worth the same amount? What if an executive watched every single game? Then these numbers would be extremely skewed. These would have to be some of the assumptions they made in calculating 1.68 billion. In the famous words of Joe Biden that’s a bunch of malarkey.  There are too many generalizations, and not enough information going into this estimate.

Still however, there must have been a few more factors that they considered to come up with 1.68 billion. Let’s see what I think they used to come up with that number:

  • Half the workforce watched or listened to the World Cup matches at work (77.45 million)
  • The average wage for a worker in the United States is about $24 an hour.
  • They assume each worker was completely unproductive for about an hour.

Then the number comes out to 1.86 billion, which is pretty close to 1.68 billion in the grand scheme of things.  It’s possible they likely calculated confidence intervals and took the lower bracket number. It’s also possible there were other factors involved such as a different hourly wage, a different number for the workforce etc.  I still think this estimate is far too basic to be taken as fact and posted all over the internet.

To be fair to Captivate Network, when I went to their website to search for more information on the 1.68 billion I couldn’t find this number posted anywhere. I searched in Google for the original source and I could not find it.  It just wanted me to visit one of the tens of media websites that copied the same article that referenced that number. I wouldn’t go as far as saying to discredit this number entirely, I’m sure someone somewhere did their research. This number was posted everywhere across the mainstream media, so it must have existed at some point. I just could not find the original source myself, and I’m just not so sure it’s entirely accurate. My theory is that some journalists were trying to prove a point and they found a number that fit the bill. Again, all of this is just speculation, but it does sound very believable doesn’t it.

Now for an alternate number:

I think the most believable number I saw in my research was for the 2010 World Cup games, posted by inside view (a sales data and intelligence firm). They stated that the 2010 games cost the US 121.7 million. This number was based on 21 million Americans watching an average of 10 minutes a day, and 120 million Americans watching at least 1 minute of World Cup telecasts. It was also based on a few other factors that they did not disclose. Now considering 25 million Americans watched the US play Portugal this year, 21 million people is a very believable number.

Now according to the Huffington Post overall viewership of the World Cup in the US is up 44%. Simple math would indicate that if American viewing habits (watching at work/taking a sick day etc.) stayed the same, but the amount watched increased by 44% the cost of the games would be:

$175.248 million dollars!

Now that sounds a little more believable. If I was held at gun point and forced to guess I would say the lost productivity was somewhere in that ball park. Now you’re probably still saying, well that’s a lot of money to spend on a sporting event that isn’t even hosted in our own country.

Well thankfully there is a group of people who don’t believe the World Cup cost anything at all. If you’re worried about the cost would probably like their theory.  There is a growing group of people who think the World Cup causes no loss in productivity.  They have a pretty convincing case too, here are their main points:

  • If people know they will be watching the game they will plan to get their other tasks done around it.
  • People are inefficient anyway, cost of doing business
  • It’s impossible to accurately measure the lost money in productivity, different hours are more productive, some people can work while they listen, some don’t watch the whole game, people who answer survey’s may not remember details etc.
  • Only 30% of senior managers surveyed said that productivity dropped. That’s based on what they think and feel as well, it’s unlikely each of them collected hard data on the matter.
  • It increases employee satisfaction and team building which in turn increases efficiency and productivity down the road.

Which brings us all the way back to where we started; productivity is nearly impossible to accurately measure. Seems like a long time ago that I said that, but I promise you it’s up there somewhere! These people have a great view point on this whole thing in my opinion. They’re looking at the mainstream media making these wild predictions and saying, “Well, I just don’t believe you. That’s not how people work, they plan for these things, they stay late, they don’t just write off their losses and move on.”  Is it possible they’re burying their heads in the sand and ignoring the issue altogether? Yes it is.

So there we go, a quick analysis on some of the numbers being thrown around. All of the numbers are plausible (well… maybe not the $700 billion number…), you can decide what number you believe the most.

By: Michael Kachaniwsky

Sai Kit Chu
Sai Kit Chu
Sai Kit Chu is a Product Manager with CurrentWare. He enjoys helping businesses improve their employee productivity & data loss prevention efforts through the deployment of the CurrentWare solutions.