Super Bowl Squares is the newest trend that straddles the fine line between team building activities and workplace ethics. The American Gaming Association estimated that 1 in 10 Americans placed some kind of wager on Super Bowl LIII between the Rams and Patriots. Most of those bets were placed through office pools.
SB Squares is a game of pure chance. A 10x10 grid (or larger) is drawn on a white board or poster. The X-axis is named with one Super Bowl participant team, with each row randomly labeled with a number between one and 10. The Y-axis is set up the same way for the opposing team. Participants purchase squares within the grid and hope their numbers match the score of the game at a given time. For instance, if one of your squares turned out to be 4-0 Rams, and the halftime score of the game was 14-10 Rams, you win the halftime sweepstakes for matching the numbers.
Each square typically costs between $10 and $20, making the prize pool $1,000 - $2,000. But a high-stakes game held for employees of the Toronto Stock Exchange charged $5,000 per square. The Globe and Mail reported that the prize pool, $375,000, was lost or stolen from the organizer, leaving all participants out of luck. Granted the workers who participated in this contest make good money and were not overly upset or hurt financially by the result. But imagine this happening in an office where the average salary is $15 per hour.
The Super Bowl is not the only sporting event that keeps office workers occupied throughout their days.
There are nearly 60 million Americans and Canadians who play fantasy football every year, with the average player spending about $556 per year in league entry fees and research, according to the Fantasy Sports Trade Association. The reason fantasy football gets a bit of a pass from gambling regulators is that industry leaders refer to it as a game of skill, not luck; similar to poker.
Fantasy football is great for bringing team members together from all departments, particularly in the age of open office workstations and fewer walls. But fantasy football becomes addicting to many unwitting players who become obsessed with winning at all costs.
Executive outplacement firm Challenger, Gray, and Christmas, Inc. encourages companies to recruit team owners into work leagues as a morale and camaraderie builder. The firm also concedes that fantasy football costs U.S. firms $14 billion in lost productivity every year. Therein lies the balancing act that maximizes the benefits and mitigates problems that come with workplace fantasy leagues that typically span the entire year depending on format.
Everyone has seen it happen before: the 20-something girl at the office who thought Arsenio Hall was where the Lakers played their home games, wins your NCAA Men's Basketball pool. That is what makes March Madness so inviting and engaging at workplaces - anybody can win. But again the competition and camaraderie come with costs.
There was nearly $10.5 billion wagered on over 70 million NCAA basketball brackets in 2017, according to WalletHub. That is nearly double the amount bet on the Super Bowl. Human Resources firms estimate that U.S. companies lose upwards of $3 billion in productivity every March due to the Big Dance.
The competitive spirit is stimulated further when companies like Berkshire Hathaway offered $1 million per year for life to any employee who picked the Sweet 16 in 2016. Owner Warren Buffett said that number would double to $2 million per year for life if one of his favorite Nebraska teams (Creighton or University of Nebraska) won it all.
Sports have always brought people of different classes, races, and ages together to cheer for a common goal. Fantasy sports are tried-and-true methods to start conversations between the nerdy IT guys in the basement and the fashion designers upstairs.
A workplace full of employees who know and like each other equals productivity and profits. The inevitable loses due to fantasy sports appear to be worth it in the long run.